Tony Blair and the Media

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it is the height of stupidity, on Blair's part, to think that it might be an idea to start regulating the blogosphere I would much rather have cyberspace regulated by public scorn than by Tony Blair
God save the media Oh for heaven's sake, can someone please tiptoe up behind our poor prating ex-Prime Minister to be and tell him that the show is over? Come on, Cherie, Alastair, Peter - whoever still composes the depleted Praetorian Guard - tell the old boy to put a sock in it before he does himself a serious embarrassment. I think it would be fair to say that we have heard some self-serving twaddle from Tony Blair in the past 10 years, and yet his "I blame the media" speech was not only hypocritical and sinister: it was downright insulting to the intelligence of the British public. There he goes, sobbing about his treatment at the hands of "feral beasts" of the press, with all the plangency of Earl Spencer denouncing the paparazzi, when he and his Government set out from the very inception of their rule to distort and corrupt the process by which information comes into the public domain. Act One, Scene One, Alastair Campbell systematically purged Whitehall of its official press officers - good men and women, not paid very much, who could be relied on to tell you the facts as they understood them. Instead, he and Tony installed a cadre of trusties, mainly from the Mirror, who blatantly pushed the Labour line and gave a Blair-favouring "spin" to events. Important announcements - the timing of elections, even the contents of the Hutton report - were leaked to certain newspapers in the hope of keeping them on side, and MPs were pathetically obliged to comment on whatever Pravda (the Sun) or Tass (the Mirror) was authorised to announce, rather than hearing the news from the Dispatch Box. It was Blair, far more than overmighty journalists, who marginalised Parliament in the past decade. And when spin didn't work, Blair and his team would simply lie: they would assert that black was white, and garnish their assertions with brutal Anglo-Saxon participles. They tried to deceive the public over little things, such as the way the Prime Minister had inserted himself at the forefront of the Queen Mother's funeral ceremony; and they deceived the public over matters of colossal international importance, such as the exact balance of probability given by British intelligence to the question of whether or not Saddam Hussein indeed possessed nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't the press that undermined confidence in government: it was the horror of discovering that the Prime Minister's spokesman - Alastair Campbell - could in effect order the intelligence services to buff up the evidence, to change the mood of verbs from the conditional to the indicative, in order to make Saddam's weaponry sound more scary and the case for war more convincing. It is the government deceit that is resented - at least by most people - and not the "feral beasts" of the media who uncovered it. That is why Blair's speech to the Reuters Institute was so hypocritical; and it was insulting to the intelligence of the public because he really seems to believe that everybody reads the press in the way that politicians read the press. We politicians can be sometimes so consumed with vanity that our very existence, our self-definition, our self-esteem depend on how we think we are portrayed in the media. Blair complains that journalists are locked in a ghastly contest for "impact", when his own Home Secretary had that very day announced a tabloid-grabbing plan to "castrate paedophiles", which turned out, on inspection, to involve giving them Prozac on a voluntary basis. Who is really addicted to "impact"? The journalists with their lust for bylines, or the politicians with their lust for bossy, interfering and often expensive initiatives which serve no other purpose but to get their mugs in the paper? The public is equally cynical about both, and I think Blair misunderstands the way people now assess and interpret the news. It is true that people on the whole dislike tabloid excesses: the monstering, the door-stepping, the lying, the intrusions, and so on. But we live in an amazingly media-literate age, and in my experience people can almost always see behind the hysteria and the hyperbole, and work out what is really going on. What they want is for their politicians to be hard-working and true to their consciences, and they have by now read so much rubbish that they find it relatively easy to blow the froth off a story and get to the nub; and if the nub of it is that the Prime Minister has wittingly or unwittingly deceived the nation, and taken us to war on a false prospectus, then, yes, that will be damaging; and the wonder of the Blair premiership is not that his reputation has been torn to bits by a feral media, but that, in spite of everything he has done, he manages to leave office with his reputation as high as it is. It would be a real disaster if he were to parlay any of his waning authority into some new restrictions on the press, and it is the height of stupidity, on Blair's part, to think that it might be an idea to start regulating the blogosphere. I have now been writing columns in this newspaper for almost 20 years, and in the past couple of years the game has completely changed. We fat-cat columnists face a new and terrifying threat. It is called consumerism. It is called democracy. For the first time we must come face to face with our readers - hordes of lynx-eyed brainboxes out there in cyberspace - and no sooner do our words appear on the website than they can be abusively peer-reviewed and fact-checked. Our judgments are mocked, our non sequiturs are skewered. Journalists - these feral characters that Blair claims to fear - are increasingly accountable, increasingly vulnerable to the pithy rejoinders of the man or woman on the net. And this is the key point: it is not so much that politics and journalism are increasingly tawdry or despised. It is the growing media literacy of the public - the understanding of soundbites and vox pops and two-ways and blogs - that allows everyone to participate in activities once reserved for the journalistico-political complex. That is a wonderful thing, and I would much rather have cyberspace regulated by public scorn than by Tony Blair, who should depart as soon as possible to complete his farewell tour in an open-top submarine.

175 thoughts on “Tony Blair and the Media”

  1. Yes, the public can be nasty. You should see what I said to your sister just last week.

    Actually, cut Blair a break: he’s really only trying to set up a job for himself. If you call for regulation, there has to be a Regulator-in-Chief, doesn’t there? And, really, can you think of anything else he’s qualified for by now?

    And only a true control freak would release a speech in PDF form only. Mark of Satan, it is.

  2. One of the best articles, even from Boris, in a long time. The irony of the man who brought spin and an irrevocable dependence on image to politics blaming his plight on the media knows no bounds.

  3. One of your best Boris. Blair is engaged in the equivalent of telling teacher to ….. off of the last day of the sixth form and it is far from edifying . To be fair to him it was he that introduced the Freedom of information Act . On the record Lobby Briefings, monthly Press Conferences and was the first Prime minister to present himself for scrutiny by the select committee chairs . It is also true that the media has degraded itself , will not report any subtlety and then complains that it only gets sounds bites. All of this came from the now forgotten promise to bring about open and honest government made during the Press campaign to smear Major on the basis of what now appear trifling matters. A promise that is so jaw dropping now that it is seriously difficult to read and walk at the same time
    Once in office he was easily able to circumvent these formal constraints but the efforts to do so have crashed into the structures they promised to set up . This is notable in the cash for honours scandal but more importantly in the still hidden first draft of the WMD dossier pursued relentlessly not by the press but by Chris Ames whoever he is .
    The relationship to the spinners and the truth quite clearly reached the “wag the dog” stage and there is no excuse for this . What we cannot have is Eva Brown , who is entirely complicit in the whole New Labour fraud to hop neatly to one side like a jinky Welsh fly half . He was the one with the cosh Blair just kept the guards talking while the thefts took place.

    It is a terrific article Boris and its great to see you back to your Olympian best but don’t you think the Press might share a little of the lame for dumbing down . The Telegraph is fairly immune having the oldest reader profile in the Western Hemisphere but it should try and engage more widely without losing its admirable civility. The Independent is indeed the worst Paper and a cultural low , so Blair is not all wrong .
    Incidentally the Hefferlump nonsense the other day was a load of cobblers. If he becomes ,as he seems determined to be , instrumental in electing Brown then I am going to hunt him down and shoot him like a dog on the street

    Metaphorically ( ish)

    Visit Hatfield Girl Wonder Blogger

  4. …in my experience people can almost always see behind the hysteria and the hyperbole, and work out what is really going on. (Boris)

    If only. Of course some sectors of the reading public are canny enough to see through it, but millions aren’t. Big Brother, which hits the front page of certain of red-tops almost daily, is very real to them.

    And don’t start me on the man-made dangers of global warming and secondhand smoke, which vast swathes of the public regurgitate as an absolute and unquestionable truth, having been saturated by scare stories from media whose sole aim these days seems to be to shock and outrage.

    It is charitable of Boris to take this line when he is forever at the mercy of the “bumbling Boris” hacks who make no attempt to understand or portray the genius behind the bumble.

  5. ‘… brutal Anglo-Saxon participles’? I’m afraid that ‘arse’ is the only one that is Anglo-Saxon, and is still the correct term in German, all of the others are later, but one can’t expect a public school classicist to realise this, after all, they speak the language of the invader … Norman French! [when not in Latin or Greek mode]

    Blair and the press? I hope Mel will forgive the northern idiom and the repetition of a ‘brutal Anglo-Saxon participle’, but that really is ‘pot calling kettle black arse’. NuLab have been whinging about the blogosphere for awhile now, in the same way that the right seem to regard the BBC as ‘Bolshivik’ (it has been considerably more restrained since Dr Kelly). But right on Boris! If politicians complain about the media and the blogosphere it demonstrates that the media is doing its job and the on-line public is aware of the hype and self-serving hypocrisy. They’ll never force the cyber-genie back into the bottle in any case, even the Red Chinese monitoring can be breached.

  6. I really liked the article Boris. I think our Tony is struggling for words with the apathy shown for his great farewell tour. If he would like to borrow some descriptive words about his tour I would be happy to oblige!

    Regulate blogs, whatever next. Everyone should read the book or see the film “Taking Liberties” That is really scary stuff. I would quite like some of my freedom and democracy back. Can you help Boris?

  7. So that’s it then, it’s all about accountability and the “news” and “new media” reflecting the required accuracy to be measured by some yardstick. So after years of reading about items such as Bernie Ecclestone’s donation to the Labour Party, the so-called 45 minute warning on W.M.D’s, the Hutton whitewash Enquiry, and the alleged selling of peerages to favoured Labour Party donors Tony wants to see some new sorts of regulators to ensure we tell it as it is with the required accuracy. In other words let’s control the media (newspapers, broadcasters, and the new media) and ensure that all voices of dissent are well controlled, it’s the New Labour way isn’t it, just ask any party member!

    I hardly think it’s the media that’s soured the relationship between politicians and the public Tony, if you had not have spent so many years creating spin, lies, and deception, you wouldn’t have needed to make that speech yesterday.

  8. I’ve just read the whole of Blair’s speech. In fairness he does make some valid points but the thing starts to crumble with…

    In the 1960s the government would sometimes, on a serious issue, have a Cabinet lasting two days. It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day.

    Why “laughable” that the Cabinet should take two days discussing a serious matter of state before shooting its mouth off?

    The idea that the government must always been seen to be taking immediate action over every noteworthy event is as much an indictment of NuLab’s obsessive, patronising “something must be done” mentality as of the media’s thirst for news.

    The same mentality has left Britain with a jungle of ill-considered regulations and useless initiatives that have become the hallmark of this hyperactive mob.

    Have their press officers never heard of a holding statement? Tone and his troops have never understood that doing nothing IS sometimes an option.

  9. I think we are a little to blame on this one. OK, Blair is a hypocrite for what he is saying, but he is not talking rubbish. The media and our politicians use each other and we the public lap it up by buying the tabloids and slanted press. Take last year for example –

    In the space of a few days Charles Clarke lost 1100 foreign prisoners, Patricia Hewitt was booed by a load of nurses for her latest bout of incompetence yet the papers were full of John Prescott’s affair. Why – because it sells more papers. Does the public get the sort of media it deserves? Do politicians get the sort of media they deserve? I am inclined to believe yes on both counts, but I also think the media has a responsibility to the profession and sometimes they really do sail a little too close to the wind.

    bgprior (http://www.pickinglosers.co.uk/blog_entry/bgprior/20070613/blair_right_too) has suggested that maybe it’s an education issue – we (generally speaking of course!)are more interested in the Beckhams and Big Brother than politics and so the media dums down accordingly.

  10. But we live in an amazingly media-literate age, and in my experience people can almost always see behind the hysteria and the hyperbole, and work out what is really going on.

    What they want is for their politicians to be hard-working and true to their consciences, and they have by now read so much rubbish that they find it relatively easy to blow the froth off a story and get to the nub…

    – Boris

    I wonder then, was it wise to elect David Cameron to lead the Tories?

  11. Jack … who else would you suggest instead of David Cameron?

    Oh I do so agree with wanting politicians to be hard working and I also want a stop to them swanning off on jollies!

  12. The blogosphere is regulated. Incitement, copyright and slander laws apply equally to bloggers as they do anyone else. On the other side of the coin, human rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of association apply to blogging too. Specific blogging regulation is unnecessary and unworkable. A ‘blogging’ regulator would have an impossible job to do. It would be snowed under with complaints from silly people engaging in ‘flamewars’ with each other and government/business trying to gag their critics. It could never be industry funded if blogs are to remain free, therefore it would become taxpayer funded. We would be paying to have ourselves gagged.

    It is a recognised fact now in business that customers will search the internet, reading peoples’ comments about your product or service before deciding to buy from you. This drives quality forward. The same must be true of serious journalism, and I hope it proves to be true of politics.

    I agree with the comment above that people tend to get the governments they deserve. PaulD makes an excellent point also about the average Big-Brother fan tabloid-reader, who often cares little for serious politics. A celebrity and mass-media obessed society does deserve a celebrity and media obessed government. Unfortunately, in our age of prosperity, many people feel no need to take any serious interest in politics. They will happily just go along with the latest media-driven fashion. The opinion formers they look up to are not the likes of Boris, but the PR people of movie stars. In this respect I think Boris is doing a fantastic job of engaging people in politics, he entertains you, gets you hooked and ends up persuading you that he is electable. I hope he has some serious input into the next Tory manifesto.

  13. _Jack … who else would you suggest instead of David Cameron?_

    Boris! Or William Hague. Maybe Ken Clarke.

    Cameron isn’t bad, and he knows how to get the Tories elected, but I remain dubious about his policies and competence. Part of the reason for that doubt is that he has declared few policies, and has demonstrated little competence for anything except PR. I certainly couldn’t say that I see him as “hard-working and true to his conscience.” Labour say that despite his chameleon-like colour changes, he is blue at the core – I hope they’re right.

  14. For the first time we must come face to face with our readers – hordes of lynx-eyed brainboxes out there in cyberspace – and no sooner do our words appear on the website than they can be abusively peer-reviewed and fact-checked. (Boris)

    Well, it’s not exactly as if you come face to face with them, as if you had encountered them in a corridor, or a bar, wagging their fingers and screeching. Nor is there any ‘must’ to the matter. You have the option of reading responses, or not reading them. Just we have the option of reading your column, or not reading it.

    Our judgments are mocked, our non sequiturs are skewered. Journalists – these feral characters that Blair claims to fear – are increasingly accountable, increasingly vulnerable to the pithy rejoinders of the man or woman on the net. (Boris)

    Again, only if they read such rejoinders. And only if they take note of them. And only if they act upon them.

    But journalists need do none of these. And the acid test of whether a journalist is reading, noting, and acting upon such rejoinders is whether he replies to them. And while you very kindly allow there to be this cockpit of lynx-eyed brainboxes, you hardly ever enter it.

    Melissa has said that you do in fact read the comments that appear beneath your online column. If so, I would expect that from time to time you would come bursting in here with some riposte, or clarification, or praise. Alas, the door almost never bursts open for a wild-eyed Boris to hurl himself upon some tormentor.

    No, instead the lynx-eyed brainboxes mostly end up devoting their feral attentions to each other. Why, only a few days ago I was upbraided by one for omitting trailing ellipses from a quote! The nerve!

    My suspicion is that while journalists are well used to hammering nails into public figures (such as the execrable Blair), they are utterly bewildered when people start doing the same to them. Either that, or it is that journalists who live by the pen also die by the pen, and a well-aimed barb is often fatal.

    But seasoned veterans of comment threads, discussion forums, and the like, tend to develop pretty thick skins, and know how to give as good as they get. They know how to roll with the punches, and to come back with brisk upper cuts. In time, I suspect journalists will learn to join the fray. They too will develop armoured carapaces, and hair-trigger reaction times. They have, after all, the basic literary skills to do so.

    And anyway these threads are like a vicar’s tea party by comparison to some of the battlefields I’ve slashed my way through. See this scar here: I got that on CNN 1998. That ugly welt: Guardian Talk 2004. This place isn’t full of lynx-eyed brainboxes. It’s mostly full of genial, purring pussycats.

    And long may it stay that way.

  15. I’d just finished reading your excellent article this morning when the truth of it was brought home to me by Beryl, a catering assistant who works in the cafe near my office.

    I could see Beryl was in a thumping temper by the savage manner with which she waved a fork around like a nine dragon trident as she speared the breakfast sausages and hurled them into a baking tray.

    “Who do they think they are?”, Beryl shouted above the noise of the oven.

    “The sausages?”, I asked.

    “Oh, don’t start her off, the other assistant pleaded, “I’ve got to live with it all day”

    “No, this bloody government”, Beryl said, “who do they think the are! Telling me I aint to smoke, I aint to drink, what I can and can’t eat. And now I got to walk around with a tape measure. I’m sick of it.”

    Beryl told me that she’d just learned that she would soon no longer be able to pop out to the cafe’s yard for a quick cigarette in her breaks because of the government’s 50% rule.

    The cafe’s yard has a roof and is walled and, under the crazy 50% rule, any such structure with a gap in the walls of less than 50% of the walled surface, now has to be smoke free – even an old yard like the cafe’s. So, when Beryl takes her breaks from July 1st, she will no longer be able to sit down for a well earned rest on the yard’s steps and be chatted up by the white van men as she has done for the past 10 years, but will be forced to stand outside the yard, come wind, rain or snow.

    “I can’t even smoke a yard from a door or window…THESE PEOPLE, are power mad, telling me how to live MY life”, Beryl said, “and you know why? They’re trying to do to us what they did to fat people like my sister. They’re control freaks”

    Beryl – who refused to sign my petition against the Iraq invasion and who told me I was wasting my time sticking up Stop The War posters everywhere a few years ago – is now collecting signatures for her petition against the anti-smoking Taliban.

    “I understand why you kept sticking up them posters now”, Beryl told me.

  16. Sounds like Beryl could do with listening to the free online version of The Jackboot. It probably expresses how she feels. It does me, leastways.

    And would were it just the Labour government! Unfortunately, the Conservatives have no plans to rid us of this malignant pox of a law. Nor Lib Dems either. They’ve all drunk the passive smoking kool-aid, just like they’ve all downed the poisoned cup of global warming. They’ve all gone collectively barking mad.

    I voted Lib Dem for the last time a month or so back. I can no longer see what’s ‘liberal’ about them any more. Nor what’s ‘conservative’ or ‘traditional’ about Cameron’s trendy new Tory party. Next time my vote goes to Anybody Else. If there is anybody else, that is.

    And if there is nobody else, no way of expressing dissent via the ballot box, then who knows what people like Beryl will do? And I know quite a few Beryls. There’s millions of them out there. Or if there aren’t now, there will be in a month’s time.

  17. The MSM have turned on Tony Blair because they sense a change in the wind. But where were they when we really needed them, say five years ago? Disseminating government propaganda like the good little media whores they are. At long last they have grown something resembling a backbone, but some of us have long memories. So sure, tear Tony Blair apart, it’s long overdue, but lay off the “fearless defenders of freedom” routine. Because it won’t wash. Lamestream media: Think, “scum of the earth” is the expression I’m reaching for.

  18. Beryl told me that she’d just learned that she would soon no longer be able to pop out to the cafe’s yard for a quick cigarette in her breaks because of the government’s 50% rule. (Liberty)

    I’m delighted by this rule. It lays bare the sheer vindictiveness of the new law. This prohibition goes way beyond the supposedly sensible step of keeping enclosed, populated rooms free of atmospheric smoke.

    All but the most fanatical anti-smokers can see it is absurd, criminalizing as it does the cafe assistant who wants to pop outside for a fag break.

    Here we have a real-lfe example of the government laying down the precise terms under which someone may enjoy a legal product alone, outdoors, on private property, her stance ordained to the nearest inch. Truly it is the stuff of a dictatorship.

    My advice to Beryl is to ignore it.

    Back to Boris’s bottles. Did you know the government is about to make criminals of, for instance, the lone sailboarder who has drunk a couple of pints before throwing himself at his brutally sobering sport? Yes, the open sea, the last refuge from regulation-strangled Britain, is soon to be subject to drink-drive laws… even with unpowered craft.

    Never mind that the government admits “at present it is very difficult to obtain full statistics” on drink-related accidents in pleasure boats, of which anecdotally there are very few, the majority being drunken passengers falling overboard. The nannying prudes have found something else people enjoy and are determined to stamp it out.

    And before you say it would be a good idea to restrain those lagered-up oiks on jet-skis, one exemption will be… you guessed… jet-skis. Report

    I noticed on a blog the other day a contributor referring to this country as Madhouse Britain. She was writing from America.

  19. Bloody hell, how long is your board? The measure applies to vessels more than seven metres long. That’s one hell of a longboard. My longest one is under three metres. If you can handle a seven-metre board after a few pints, you’re a better man than me. If there is one sport that it shouldn’t even cross your mind to attempt while drunk, it is windsurfing. It shouldn’t be illegal, it should be certifiable. It’s hard enough sober.

    As for the loophole for jetskis, and the slightly tricky question of enforcement, it would be too much to expect principle and practicality from government legislation.

    On the smoking issue, Charles Moore, who is normally too conservative for my taste, offers an excellent insight in this week’s Spectator. The legislation is, of course, draconian, and I say that as someone who hates smoke. But Moore points out that there might have been less clamour for it if smokers had been a little more polite in avoiding smoking in non-smokers’ company. Not poetic justice, but a lesson in the benefits of good manners.

  20. The measure applies to vessels more than seven metres long.

    Read again, bgp. It’s seven metres AND/OR capable of more than seven knots. That’s almost any old plank of wood with a bedsheet tied to a broom handle.

  21. Oops, yes. Skim-reading too lightly. But if a Court of Appeal ruled that a jet-ski is not a ship, will they really rule that a windsurfer is? And I still don’t think any sane person would try windsurfing drunk. It’s hard enough on the balance and coordination when you’re sober. But that’s no excuse for the impractical proposals.

  22. But if a Court of Appeal ruled that a jet-ski is not a ship, will they really rule that a windsurfer is? (bgp)

    And doesn’t this drive home what an appalling waste of public money the whole exercise is? Going to the Court of Appeal to argue whether a sailboard is a ship, when the reason for doing so is already shot through with holes.

    While we’re at the seaside, let’s consider NuLab’s next clampdown.

    Children bobbing in the sea on inner-tube style floats are vulnerable and at risk. All children using water-wings must, by law, be tethered to a responsible adult by a rope of no more than three metres in length.

    It has since been reported that certain adult tetherers may have downed a couple of G&Ts before paddling with the child. Supervisors will therefore be breath-tested to ensure their competence to tether, the legal limit being the same as driving a car or rowing a dinghy – 1 microgram per litre. Persons contravening the law risk a fine of up to £10,000 and 6 months’ imprisonment.

    The government will also introduce a Sand Castle Tax to help the battle against coastal erosion, exacerbated by global warming. Beach wardens will weigh the total mass of castles and will charge supervising carers at the rate of 10p per Kg of sand.

    Children will also be handed a leaflet called “Evil Eric Bloodaxe” explaining how castles are a product of warmongering and should not be built on this beach. The officially recommended project is Sand Flowers, which will attract a discounted tax rate of 5p per Kg.

    This important drive towards safety and policy compliance on Britain’s beaches will be a major £350m boost for local employment, involving the appointment of 700 new beach wardens and 3,000 support staff.

    And you think I’m joking.

  23. I shall immediately instruct my grandchildren on how to bury a beach warden in the sand.

    Sally

  24. Sand Castle Tax (PaulD)

    Watching Coast recently, I learned that the optimal ratio of sand to water in a sndacastle is 8:1. Much more or less, and they fall down. Possibly suffocating children in the process.

    I look forward to the Sand Castle Inspectorate testing sandcastles for the correct ratio of sand to water, and requiring the demolition of those that fail to comply with what will have become a statutary regulation. We can’t have unsafe Sand Castles, after all.

  25. The BBC also report today that the Government are thinking of dropping the drink-driving limit to the equivalent of about half-a-pint (to bring us into line with the rest of Europe). The police will be having fun on Saturday and Sunday mornings, as most people who had a few drinks the night before will still be over the limit. All they’ve got to do now is ban use of telephones completely, muzzle passengers (particularly children) to prevent distraction, and find a way to stop people driving while tired, and they should reduce the number of reasons for accidents dramatically. Not the accident-rate though – we just won’t have any excuses for our mistakes.

    And if they drop the drink-driving level for cars, how long before they do it for boats too, in the name of consistency?

  26. idlex said:

    I know quite a few Beryls. There’s millions of them out there. Or if there aren’t now, there will be in a month’s time.

    You’re right, idlex, there are millions of Beryls. Most of our thirteen million, disgracefully criminalised, smokers amount to an awful lot of Beryls. And smokers are by no means the only angry people in our country.

    There seems to have been a great sea change in our national mood recently, in England in particular, have you noticed that? It’s as though the long suffering people of England who’ve been acquiescent for a decade are awakening from a long sleep of comatosed demoralisation.

    Even Janice my, once, irrepressibly chirpy office cleaner has become a Beryl. Janice says she will not vote Labour again, although she has supported them all her life, because she’s so angry that her grandson can’t get housed, yet “there seems to be plenty of accommodation for all of these asylum seekers”.

    And the number of comments ranging from angry to radical and downright revolutionary (Blair and nulab are corrupt/crooks/Nazis/the Stasi…we should stop talking and take to the streets to eject them) on BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’ never fails to astound me these days.

    There’s something in the air, idlex, a sense of rising anger at an intolerable and long repressed injustice. Yet people are casting around for moral and political leadership out of this mess – and I pray I’m wrong here – but there seems to be virtually none to be had. Save for Boris and a notable few, our politicians appear to have slipped into the corrupt labyrinth of nulabour’s all engulfing, all powerful, one party state, so we do not have an opposition party these days.

  27. PaulD said:

    Here we have a real-life example of the government laying down the precise terms under which someone may enjoy a legal product alone, outdoors, on private property, her stance ordained to the nearest inch. Truly it is the stuff of a dictatorship.

    My advice to Beryl is to ignore it.

    It is the stuff of a dictatorship alright and Beryl would love to ignore it. However she understands that our town will have a legion of local authority spies equipped with hidden cameras, who will prowl the streets like foot pads in order to catch hard working people like Beryl breaking these grossly absurd and unjust regulations and that the fine applicable will be £80.

    Beryl has no doubt that she could be fined as one of our local bank staff has already been fined £50 for holding a cigarette in her hand as her arm rested on her open car window sill. her ‘offence’ was allowing her cigarette to ‘drip ash’ from an open car window. After the bank cashier paid her fine she was given a small pocket ashtray with her receipt by the court. What a nerve.

    Beryl was seething again this morning when I called into the cafe to collect my toast. She’d been told that despite the extra £1000 odd tax she pays each year for her cigarettes, the NHS will refuse to treat her for ‘routine’ health problems unless she agrees to give up smoking for three months and proves that she has done so by submitting to a blood test!

    I rubbed salt in the wound by telling her that I’ve read that MPs, who buy their cigarettes and booze at Duty Free prices in the Commons, claim they have the right to smoke in their private offices because they work such long hours. This presumably includes David Cameron?

    “Work all your life, never claim dole and this is what you get for it”, said Beryl, “if I was a murderer in prison I’d get free fags, free drugs and compensation if I was refused them.”

    Who would have believed, just a decade ago, that hard working people like Beryl, who are the essence of labour’s heartlands, would be scapegoated in this appalling manner by the party created to stand up for them?

    And who would have dreamed that Her Majesty’s democracy loving opposition would stand by and allow this gross injustice to happen?

  28. There’s something in the air, idlex, a sense of rising anger at an intolerable and long repressed injustice. (Liberty)

    I think there’s bound to be if there are enough Beryls about. She sounds like she’s a one-woman alarm klaxon.

    And she’s sounds like she’s probably more effective than a full page ad in the Times, or a 30-second TV ad. Why? Because face-to-face speech is the most effective way of changing people’s minds, if only fractionally. Beryl, all on her own, has probably already slightly shifted the opinions of hundreds of people, as her fury has gone rippling out into the community around her.

    We sit sleepily in our armchairs and we get drip-fed TV propaganda, which we unconsciously imbibe. We’ve been told for years that smoking kills you, and we believe it. We’ve been also told for years that there’s global warming, and we believe that. In part we believe it because we never hear a contradictory opinion. Or because we never really think about it. But all that expensive TV propaganda can be undone by a single Beryl, because ultimately we pay far more attention to the people we meet than anything we see on TV, or read in newspapers.

    And there are going to millions of Beryls in a month or so’s time. You won’t see them on TV, or read about them in newspapers. But their influence will be rippling in waves all through the society around us, changing people’s minds.

    What seems a settled society can change with astonishing rapidity, as such little ripples join up to form double-beryled tidal waves. I lived through the sixties in the astonishing time when half the people I knew changed overnight from clean-cut, squash-playing, bright young students into long-haired, dope-smoking, hippie outcasts. It was something that swept through the entire country like a tidal wave, from person to person, beyond media or political or police control. It wasn’t just that people started getting stoned on grass, but that they changed their appearance and their minds about pretty much everything, and in entirely unforeseeable ways.

    Perhaps something like that is beginning to happen again. I really don’t know. In the sixties what happened was completely unexpected. But I note that I’ve radically changed my previously rather settled mind about a whole swathe of things over recent years. And I’m far angrier than I’ve been for ages. Hardest to believe is that I’m again beginning to feel like the social outcast that I last was in, well, …the sixties.

  29. These days I have a vague uneasy sense that the ground is shuddering and heaving beneath me. The pubs no longer seem to be the cheerful places they were not a year ago. People say, “It’s no longer a free country.” In Iraq, a ghastly war drags on. The TV is so full of trash I scarcely watch it.

    And the sky seems to have become oppressively dark, even if the sun is brightly shining. I have the sense that this country is about to turn into Nazi Germany. I wonder what it will be like to be stopped and searched. I wonder if I will join a resistance movement, and blow up bridges or something. But then I tell myself I’m being silly, and anyway far too old for that. And I chide myself that it’s probably just me who’s taking everything far, far too seriously, and I should buck up and enjoy life.

    But somehow I can’t. Or at least not for long. If I briefly dispel the clouds, they are back a few days later, as the waking nightmare returns. Will my doctor be wearing a Nazi uniform next time I visit, as she pins the Brown Star of Smokers on my lapel, and gives me a one-way ticket to Ipswitch rehabilitation camp for smokers, drinkers, fat people, and Muslims? “Unfortunately,” I can already see her barking, with cold efficiency, “There aren’t enough passenger trains for undesirables like you. You’ll have go by cattle truck.”

  30. I believe that Beryl and millions like her will stand up and be counted, and say that they have had enough. I believe that it will be people power that will eventually put a stop to the madness.

    Up here in Scotland Labour was given a bloody nose at election time. It would have been bloodier if the election waters had not become muddied by independence issues.

    I am a life long Labour supporter like Beryl and I am waiting, like Tony Benn, for a Labour Party to come along that I can vote for. I resigned from the party over a year ago but they continually bombast me with pleading emails and letters to come back. Yeah, right!

    Even though he is not of my political persuasion I have a lot of respect for Boris and his articles are filled with sense. I also like Annabel Goldie up here in Scotland. She is one of the few politicians who talks some common sense.

    I suppose I am a floating voter now, quite nice really. At the moment I am not making for the David Cameron life raft.

    I would happily vote in Beryl as Prime Minister.

    Sally

  31. idlex said:

    These days I have a vague uneasy sense that the ground is shuddering and heaving beneath me…

    If I briefly dispel the clouds, they are back a few days later, as the waking nightmare returns. Will my doctor be wearing a Nazi uniform next time I visit, as she pins the Brown Star of Smokers on my lapel, and gives me a one-way ticket to Ipswitch rehabilitation camp for smokers, drinkers, fat people, and Muslims? “Unfortunately,” I can already see her barking, with cold efficiency, “There aren’t enough passenger trains for undesirables like you. You’ll have go by cattle truck.

    You’ve expressed my mood perfectly, idlex. I’ve avoided my GP like the plague for some two years because Nulabour have bribed and bullied the medical profession into their corrupt, socially engineered, labyrinth. I suspect that, as I’m a smoker, my own GP would put me down to meet his government commission targets, just as a vet would destroy an unwanted moggie – with a sweet little pain killing injection, or by denying me treatment – without batting an eyelid. I have private health care, yet my GP is the gatekeeper of my access to this, NHS dependent, service.

    I admit this aversion to my GP is tinged with paranoia. When I bumped into him in a restaurant last week my first thought was that he was making a mental note of what all his patients there were eating and of whether or not he considers us worthy of resuscitation in the event – after sniffing each of to see if we’d been smoking.

    However, other smokers, elderly and overweight persons have told me that they too avoid their GPs and share my distrust of the medical establishment now. So my aversion to may not be so paranoid after all. Perhaps it’s merely a reflection of the collective ‘survive and protect’ folk wisdom gripping our nation under nulabour? Desperate situations call for desperate measures.

    Are GPs now forced to make camouflaged, data seeking reccies into the community because so few of us trust them enough to visit their surgeries these days?

  32. I would happily vote in Beryl as Prime Minister.

    Sally

    What a brilliant idea, Sally! The first thing the hard working, multi-ear ringed cockney, PM Beryl would do is to allow considerate smoking and smokers’ pubs and to tell us all to eat and drink what we like. As Beryl says, “We’ve a right to kill ourselves how we want, aint we!” She’d abolish Political Correctness and hold a Referendum on UK’s EU membership.

    Pensions, schools and the NHS would be among her priorities too, because for all her raging at the government, Beryl is a font of human kindness to her customers, children and elderly people and anyone in need of help.

    The area between her cafe and my office seems to be a mecca for those who are taken ill in the street, probably because they try to make for a seat in the cafe.

    No one can beat Beryl to help a person in distress. She drops her sausages and sprints to the aid of those who fall or pass out or have trouble making it up the steps in the square. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve rushed out to help someone only to find Beryl’s already there, putting a stricken sick person into the recovery position, stroking their face and telling them ‘you’re gonna be ok, my darlin’, the ambulance is on its way.”

    Beryl’s a throw back to the kind, polite and caring society we used to have before politcal correctness and nulabour got its icy, iron grip on our poor country and us long suffering people.

    Who better to trust Beryl to lead our recovery out of this mess?

  33. Liberty

    I think you should put her name forward for woman of the year. It makes me sick seeing those artificial z list celebs and hard faced business women wining and dining. I reckon she would go down a storm.

    Boris!! Can you help get Beryl a gong. It sounds like nobody will accuse her of funding your party.

    Seriously it is time more notice was taken of the majority of very kind people who just get on with life and look after others that come their way.

    Where is this cafe? We could all come and visit.

    Sally

  34. I tried to post a reply to Liberty’s posts last night, but it got held for moderation, according to the page that was returned. Never seen that on Boris’s site before. Maybe he really does feel “vulnerable”, though it seems he is not as enthusiastic as he claims for cyberspace to be regulated by “public scorn”. And it also casts doubt on the extent to which blogging really holds journos to account. Quite easy to sweep unfavourable comments under the table. Who would know?

    I have posted the unwelcome comment in a comment to a post of mine instead, at pickinglosers. You can see for yourself that this was a long way from being abusive. It is interesting to speculate which word was considered so “gratuitously insulting, inflammatory or unsubstantiated” that it triggered automatic moderation. Hayek? Thatcher? Redwood?

  35. I’ve avoided my GP like the plague for some two years because Nulabour have bribed and bullied the medical profession into their corrupt, socially engineered, labyrinth. (Liberty)

    I seriously wonder who has been bullying whom.

    My general impression of New Labour has been that they have never had any real ideas of their own, apart from using the grubby old advertising device of adding NEW!! to a tired old product, and employing a young, toothy, grinning salesman to promote it. The whole point of ‘spin’ has always been to conceal the emptiness and shallowness and incompetence of everything from the salesman to the product.

    It seems to me that, since nature abhors a vacuum, what happened was that a vacuous New Labour sucked in ideas and policies from anywhere and everywhere. If they had none themselves, then plenty of other people did.

    And one of these groups of people was the medical establishment. These people are unable to cure even a common cold, but they have become convinced that if they can stop people smoking, this will prove to be a panacea of every ill that afflicts humanity. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them regard the extirpation of smoking as an event as significant as The Second Coming. This is of a course a completely dotty idea, and indeed a Nazi idea, and a religious idea which emanates from the Calvinist headquarters of the WHO in Geneva.

    It was this medical establishment, in the person of Sir Charles George, president of both the BMA and the BHF, who called on the government to introduce a complete ban on smoking in public places, after the braindead Labour government had signed up to the the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. And of course this clueless Labour government did so, although not quite completely – pubs that didn’t sell food were to be exempted. This omission was only rectified on the intervention of the Government Health Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson (funny these doctors are all ‘sirs’), who threatened to resign if the ban wasn’t made complete. The government, of course, caved in.

    So, the way I see it, this vile piece of legislation emanates from the WHO medical establishment, not from so-called New Labour, every single one of whom have nothing but air between their ears, and are incapable of thought. New Labour has just been carrying the bags for the WHO, and every other special interest group it serves.

    Now tell me what’s wrong with the above explanation – which is really one of a medical tail wagging a government dog? And what it suggests is that it’s not ‘New’ Labour that is the real problem, but semi-religious cult organisations like the WHO.

    And also Big Pharma companies. Almost a year to the day after he’d called upon the government to ban smoking, Sir Charles George joined the board of BioAccelerate Holdings Inc, a pharma company.

  36. it got held for moderation (bgp)

    If you put in two or more links to other websites in any posting, this thread handler automatically holds them for moderation. I think it’s intended to prevent people posting adverts, not to restrict what they have to say.

  37. I suspect that, as I’m a smoker, my own GP would put me down to meet his government commission targets, just as a vet would destroy an unwanted moggie – with a sweet little pain killing injection, or by denying me treatment – without batting an eyelid. (Liberty)

    I am increasingly concerned about doctors, and not just what seems to be the inordinate influence of the medical establishment upon government, as outlined earlier.

    A year or so ago, on a routine visit to my doctor, I was rather surprised when she suddenly strapped a blood pressure measure belt around my arm, declared that my blood pressure was a bit high, and I should have an ECG test. I wasn’t surprised that my blood pressure was high. All sorts of things can raise blood pressure, including tea, coffee, and cigarettes – of which I had just partaken of two. You’re supposed to not have any for an hour or two before a blood pressure test. You’re also supposed to be lying or seated in quiet repose, because blood pressure also rises when you are physically active. And I wasn’t doing either. When I took the ECG test, lying in repose, after being required not to eat or drink or smoke anything for an entire night, I passed with flying colours. All was normal. I asked if they could also test my blood pressure. That was normal too. I wondered afterwards how many doctors are running blood pressure tests on their patients, discovering they’ve got high blood pressure, and putting them on course of treatment they didn’t actually need.

    Again, a while back I looked after my 90-year-old mother for a while. One day she developed a cough, and the next day was almost entirely prostrate in her bed. I called round her doctor, who examined her, and declared there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her. I insisted she had a chest cough, and was reluctantly given a prescription for antibiotics. A few days later, when she seemed even worse, I called in a second doctor. He also found nothing wrong with her. As he left, he intimated darkly that there came a time when old people should be allowed to die. He didn’t put it exactly like that, but that’s what he meant. It was only when a district nurse breezed in a few days later, and briefly glanced at my mother, that she declared my mother should be immediately admitted to hospital. An hour later, an ambulance showed up – about a week after my mother had been first been taken ill. Afterwards I wondered how it was that two fully-trained doctors had failed to see what a district nurse could in about 10 seconds flat. Were they incompetent? Or were they deliberately withholding medical assistance?

    I’ve begun to wonder whether these days doctors are increasingly all becoming Harold Shipmans who will cheerfully kill off their patients if they feel inclined. These days we all live much longer than we used to, even if we smoke and drink. And old people are a burden on both doctors and society. So it suits both to be rid of them. And what nature formerly accomplished, the medical profession may now feel it must do. If so, the medical profession is in need of urgent reform. What seems to be needed is not more doctors, but more district nurses. If an army can train up medical orderlies in a few weeks or months, I can’t see why the same can’t be done in civil society. These could perform most of the duties of doctors, only referring the most difficult cases to fully trained doctors.

  38. < ‘what it suggests is that it’s not ‘New’ Labour that is the real problem, but semi-religious cult organisations like the WHO’ (idlex)<

    I think New-Labour and their establishment are becoming more and more like religious fanatics. Below is a quote from a translation I found of the official website of the Saudi Arabian ‘Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices’, commonly known as the religious police:

    < … there is no such thing as ‘personal freedom’. It is a lie. We would like to ask those who argue in this matter: Have you found personal freedom in the east of the land or in its west? In Eastern or Western regimes? None whatsoever, neither here nor there. Man is required to obey rules and regulations against his will everywhere … the verse ‘There is no coercion in religion’ does not mean that everyone can do what they want and refrain from doing what they don’t want, or that no one is entitled to require them to do the good that they have abandoned or to refrain from the evil that they do. The meaning of the verse… is that a person must not be forced to convert to Islam – and this too does not concern all non-Muslims, but only the People of the Book, [regarding] the Bedouin polytheist idol worshippers, you must either force them to convert to Islam, or fight them.’<

    I think New Labour share this mentality, albeit in a secular way. They dismiss personal freedoms as a non-entity, unworthy of their consideration. They seem quite happy to let bigotted foreigners who vote for them retain their intolerant views. Yet they hire armies of state sponsored bureaucrats to promote their ideology and convert the rest of us to approved New-Labour values.

  39. So NuLab are Stalinist/Islamist airheads, are the Tories then top-hatted greedy exploiters? Grow up children. I don’t like NuLab and I do like the new Tory leadership, but the way you talk you can only aid Brown’s electoral prospects as people realise what paranoic exaggerated nonsense this is. When Boris does similar it’s obviously ironic analogy with a touch of truth. Did you see/hear Portillo define the dichotomy between the Conservative leadership and the rank-and-file on ‘This Week’? It’s not rank-and-file votes that need to be won, they only need to be motivated to vote. Did you also hear that he said that too many want to turn the clock back to Maggie’s policies and that this won’t work? [I do wish that Portillo was still part of the higher echelon of the party, I much prefer those with an ideology {even at times when I disagree with that ideology and analysis} to those that operate on immediate expediency and target driven strategy, and that is something NuLab have tended to be gulity of]. Brown has two whole years to sell himself, if you don’t shape up and wake up they’ll win again. They’re already preparing the way by starting to admit errors, it appears humble and appeases those who have suffered from government actions. What do you think the key electorate will make of a party that’s too arrogant and vitriolic to do the same? Just look at the way the whole nonsense over grammar schools was blown-up out of all proportion.

    I didn’t see the article, but apparently The Torygraff wants Boris to stop posting on-line. I wonder why?

    And smokers, I used to be a heavy smoker but had to give up for health reasons. I really don’t care one way or the other, but you sound like a bunch of junkies trying to validate your own addiction.

  40. PS: Freedom only exists within defined social constraints, that is the nature of all human society. The most egalitarian ever found are the Congo pygmies, they only recognise age-set and gender distictions.

  41. you sound like a bunch of junkies trying to validate your own addiction. (Agent Provocateur)

    There was a time when a ‘junkie’ was a term that applied only to a heroin ‘addict’. Now it applies to more or less anything and everything.

    Don’t be too surprised if you find yourself being called a junkie or an addict for doing something that you’d never thought of in such terms.

  42. < ‘I didn’t see the article, but apparently The Torygraff wants Boris to stop posting on-line. I wonder why? (AP)<

    Because when people come here to read Boris’ articles and comment on them they don’t go to the Telegraph website to do it.

    < ‘…the way you talk you can only aid Brown’s electoral prospects as people realise what paranoic exaggerated nonsense this is.’ (AP)<

    How is it ‘paranoic exaggerated nonsense’? We could start by looking at the 90 day detention without trial, this sort of practice is more akin to a dictatorship than a democracy. Then you only have to look at which side of the freedom of conscience / discrimination side of the coin the government is coming down on. There is no ‘right’ not to be offended, however the authorities have already arrested a Christian for handing out leaflets condemning homosexuality. We have the ‘right’ to marry who we choose in accordance with UK law. There is no government condemnation of various non-Christian religious groups preaching in defiance of this fundamental human right. When gay adoption was legalised the government minister concerned stood up to tell Parliament that there was ‘no such thing’ as the ‘right to adopt’, and the that the new laws were not about ‘gay rights’ they were acting on the advice of adoption professionals that gay adoption would be the best thing for the children concerned. Did the government keep this tone a couple of years later when it banned the Catholic Church from refusing to place babies with gay couples? No, the debate suddenly swung round to gay couples having ‘the right to adopt’ and the right ‘not to be discriminated against’. Freedom of conscience, a fundamental human right in UK law, mattered not, all that mattered were perceived rights that are non-existent in our law.

  43. AP, I agree with you (1:54AM) about the tone of some of the comments, even while agreeing with much of the underlying philosophy of those comments (resistance to ever-greater limitation of personal freedom). I wouldn’t criticize comparisons of current approaches in British politics with historical and cultural alternatives (“he who does not learn the lessons of history” etc), but there are ways of making that comparison. Some of this sounds, however accurate and well-intentioned, just plain reactionary.

    But there appears to be an internal contradiction in your post. You seem to endorse Portillo’s view that the Conservative Party should decide its policies according to what will attract voters in the centre-ground, but then say you wish Portillo were still part of the “higher echelon” of the party, because you “prefer those with an ideology”. Political triangulation is a funny sort of ideology. It is the ideology of naked power-seeking for power’s sake. Not an attractive ideology in my book. I hesitate to suggest the historical analogies….

    Your philosophical point in the brief, second post (1:58AM) goes to the nub of it. Your first sentence is, of course, true as far as it goes, unless one takes the anarchist perspective. But that does not tell us anything about the appropriate bounds of those constraints. The unreconstructed democrat takes the view that the appropriate bounds are whatever the majority decides. But deeper thinkers had recognized the shallowness of this philosophy long before J.S.Mill coined the phrase “the tyranny of the majority”:

    “Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.” (Thomas Jefferson)

    “That the desires of the majority of the people are often for injustice and inhumanity against the minority, is demonstrated by every page of the history of the whole world.” (John Adams)

    “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” (Ben Franklin)

    Classical liberals argue from first principles (whether utilitarian, a-al-Mises, or natural-law, a-la-Rothbard) that the appropriate bounds of those constraints are very limited. With all the political triangulation going on nowadays, this view is not represented by any mainstream party.

    That is a pity, not only for practical and democratic reasons, but also because it represents a significant thread in British political philosophy, and (I suggest) in the British psyche. The marginalization of this philosophy is illustrative of the increased Europeanization of the British political debate. One can contrast the British, Lockean, common-law tradition of rights being inherent in man and being delegated to a limited extent to Government, with the continental, Rousseauian, Napoleonic-law tradition of rights being surrendered en masse to the state as the embodiment of society, from which a limited number of rights are then returned to individuals. The former approach is fundamental to what it means to me to be British.

    If Europe can accommodate both traditions (or better still, adopt the British model), then I say fine, let’s work together as closely as possible. If Britain falls in-line with the continental philosophy, either because the structure of the EU demands it, or because our national politicians and pundits fail to appreciate the importance of the British tradition, then Britain is lost to me. It will be time to look for somewhere where that tradition is still part of the mainstream. With the emergence of big-government conservatism in America, it is getting ever-harder to think where that might be.

    This abandonment by the political mainstream may explain the increasingly depressed, angry or frustrated tones of those who believe in small government. I also notice the wide sense of malaise in the country, noted in other posts above. I would like to think that it stems, at least in part, from a sense that no mainstream party is standing full-square for what many (perhaps most) intuitively understand is the British tradition of limited government.

  44. I meant to add an illustration of the Europeanization of the political debate. Jeremy Paxman introduced an item on Newsnight last week by posing the question whether we have the right to walk multiple dogs. To someone to whom no rights exist unless provided by government, that question is intelligible. But from a classical-liberal perspective, that question is upside down; it should be “should the government circumscribe our right to walk more than one dog at a time?” Put that way, the question sounds considerably more absurd than put from Paxman’s unintentionally European perspective. What worries me is that his way of viewing the question of rights is becoming commonplace, perhaps even subconsciously-ingrained, particularly amongst the media and the political classes.

  45. I am confused. The same article about the media was in the Telegraph word for word as it is here. I think I must have got lost in translation somewhere. [Ed: yes, this is the weekly column reproduced here]
    Sally

  46. One can contrast the British, Lockean, common-law tradition of rights being inherent in man and being delegated to a limited extent to Government, with the continental, Rousseauian, Napoleonic-law tradition of rights being surrendered en masse to the state as the embodiment of society, from which a limited number of rights are then returned to individuals. The former approach is fundamental to what it means to me to be British. (bgp)

    I broadly agree. But I think that this approach is something that is absorbed into one’s identity simply by living in Britain, rather than learned through, say, reading Locke. Exactly the same happens if one is born into a Catholic or Protestant culture. One acquires the set of values that are implicit in them, almost by a process of osmosis.

    And perhaps the differing political doctrines you describe are rooted in these older religious doctrines. After all, both Locke and Rousseau were writing in the 18th century, which is more or less yesterday. What you call the continental, Rousseauian tradition might equally be described as the top-down authoritarian Roman Catholic tradition of absolute power being invested in the Church, with indulgences (rights) dispensed by its supreme pontiff. And what you call the British Lockean tradition might equally be described as that of a bottom-up liberal Protestantism which clawed back that power to the individual, and set out to restrict the powers of Church/state authority. Both Locke and Rousseau might be said to simply reflect their different traditions – which they simply absorbed, re-articulated, and perhaps refined.

    Indeed, the whole matter may be perhaps taken all the way back to the conflict between the centralised Roman state and its Roman laws (from which Napoleonic law is derived) and its often-rebellious colonies.

    Furthermore, one might even cast the dispute between Blair and Brown in the same terms, as that of the (allegedly soon-to-be-Roman-Catholic) Blair against the Protestant Brown. Blair centralised power in the Prime Ministerial office, and on his own initiative took Britain into the disastrous Iraq war (a Roman imperial venture now looking like another Varian disaster). This centralisation of power is also expressed by the top-down imposition of strange theological doctrines (global warming, passive smoking) on a sceptical and increasingly restive native population.

    My own English peasant views, on both global warming and passive smoking, amount to a standard bottom-up British protest against top-down centralised church/state power. It’s an angry individual protest that’s as old as our history. And I’m fuming, both literally and metaphorically.

  47. idlex, I agree that the differences are subconscious and not generally learned through study of Locke and Rousseau. I suggested them as examples not progenitors of the different traditions. (Locke was more 17th than 18th century, by the way.)

    Ultimately, the existence of those fundamental differences is more important than their origins. I think we agree that the differences matter. What follows is mere polemic.

    There may be something in what you say about Catholic vs Protestant, but Catholic countries have produced great exponents of liberalism (Turgot, Bastiat, Mises, Hayek, etc) and Protestant countries the reverse. It raises the question of how one categorizes those countries, like Germany, that are a mixture of both. I’m not sure I could ascribe the progress of liberalism in Germany upto the mid-nineteenth century, and Humboldt’s conception of the state, to the advance of Protestantism, and its decline thereafter to a Catholic resurgence. Protestant Prussia was prominent in that decline.

    Nor could one date the growth of individualism in Britain to the establishment of the Church of England. Puritan rule under Cromwell seemed to offer just a different form of authoritarianism. Some of that resistance to despotic authority may be deeply ingrained (e.g. Magna Carta), but there seems to have been a gradual hardening of that individualism during the modern period, particularly during the Enlightenment. There are probably some Catholic vs Protestant tensions mixed up in there, but it is hardly the whole or even the main story.

    There is a similarity between your theory and that of Max Weber (The Protestant Ethic…). I find Murray Rothbard’s arguments against Weber and in defence of a Catholic tradition of individualism quite persuasive.

    There is something more complicated than religious or ethnic origins going on, though they are probably a part of it. There was an evolution in different directions during the modern era, whose course was differentiated as much by events, individuals and institutions as by religious or ethnic differences.

    Where I disagree with you most strongly is in your attempt to fit Blair and Brown into your Catholic/Protestant mould. It is wishful thinking to imagine that Blair is the great controller and centralizer of the two. Anyone around the Government for the past ten years could tell you which one is the great control-freak and micro-manager.

  48. Jeremy Paxman introduced an item on Newsnight last week by posing the question whether we have the right to walk multiple dogs. To someone to whom no rights exist unless provided by government, that question is intelligible. But from a classical-liberal perspective, that question is upside down; it should be “should the government circumscribe our right to walk more than one dog at a time?” (bgp)

    I agree. Except that I’m not sure there is any need to invoke any notion of rights, except in denying them. I am able to walk as many dogs as I wish, and the government has no right to intervene to stop me.

    The only business of government is to maintain its citizens in the highest degree of freedom possible. That is what we elect governments to do. We elect them to, among other things, keep foreign tyrants at bay. We do not elect them to tyrannise us instead.

    A government, in this view, is essentially no different from a butcher or a baker. It provides a service to its customers. And when I visit my local butcher or baker, I tell them what I want of them. They don’t tell me what they want of me. It would be an oppressive and despotic baker that tells me that – in his opinion, and for my own good – I must eat black bread when I want white.

    And what applies to bakers applies equally to governments.

  49. Where I disagree with you most strongly is in your attempt to fit Blair and Brown into your Catholic/Protestant mould. It is wishful thinking to imagine that Blair is the great controller and centralizer of the two. Anyone around the Government for the past ten years could tell you which one is the great control-freak and micro-manager.

    Yes, I thought I was probably pushing it a bit to try to shoehorn those two into my scheme.

  50. bgp: The issue we are discussing is the relation of the individual to the state.

    I have just argued that a government is no different from a butcher or a baker. I could butcher my own sheep, bake my own bread, and keep a shotgun by my bed. But instead it’s generally easier to subcontract these chores to people who know how to do them better, quicker, and more cheaply.

    But in return for these various services, I must pay a price. In times of economic plenty, various different butchers and bakers may compete for my custom, offering me the widest diversity of choices and driving down their prices. But in times of scarcity, the numbers of competing butchers and bakers is likely to decrease, and the prices of their products to rise. I may even end up with just one baker, who sells just one kind of very high-priced loaf.

    So also with governments. In times of economic plenty, several rival political parties compete for my vote, offering the widest variety of policies, and competing to drive down their prices (which I pay in taxes). But in times of economic scarcity, I may well end up with one party, with only one policy, which comes at a very high price (e.g. conscription into the army). The former corresponds to freedom within the most liberal democracy, the latter subjection under dictatorship or tyranny.

    In this vision of things, it is the underlying economic prosperity of a country that determines its political structure. If Europe once lived under kings and popes, it is because it was economically poor. But with gradually rising economic prosperity, due to trade and technological innovation, there gradually emerged a wider political choice, in Britain first for powerful barons, and then for landed commoners, and so on. Centralised political (and religious) power gradually diffused outwards into society.

    But economic prosperity can fall as well as rise, and when it does, the whole process of outward diffusion of power goes into reverse. For example, times of war are times of low prosperity, and defeat in war brings even lower prosperity. If in the last century first Russia, and then Germany, fell under one-party rule, it may have been in large part because they had both just lost wars. The same might be suggested of the rise of the Taliban in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

    According to this vision of things, furthermore, you can’t ‘export democracy’, like bananas, to countries that don’t have it. If the Middle East is largely run by despots, it is because it is not sufficiently prosperous to support the relative luxury of democracy. There was never any way in which America could ‘bring democracy’ to Iraq. And if George W Bush’s America seems to more and more resemble a dictatorship, it suggests a decline in US prosperity which has perhaps been exacerbated by failed military interventions. The same may also be true of Britain.

  51. Oh, and to hook that up with my Catholic/Protestant argument, I’d simply suggest that the rising economic prosperity which brings greater political freedom also brings greater religious (or moral) freedom or autonomy.

    Just as people gain greater political control over their destiny as they unseat kings, so they also gain greater moral autonomy when they unseat moral authorities like the pope. If Protestantism fractured into ever greater numbers of different sects, it is simply the continuation of the same process of overthrowing moral authority. Having rebelled against the Pope, people then proceeded to rebel against Luther and Calvin as well.

    And if church-going in Europe has declined, this also is simply the continuation of the same process, whereby the splinter sects divide and dwindle in size until each individual is effectively their own church, and their own primary moral authority.

    Again, if economic prosperity falls rather than rises, religious sects expand rather than contract in size, as such personal moral autonomy is lost, and ceded to others, welding them into growing cults or sects. If so, the recent proliferation of new cults such as Scientologists, Moonies, and the like (particularly in America) again suggests a decline in economic prosperity.

    Much the same thing seems to have accompanied the political decline of Rome from republic into empire at the time of Augustus – which happened at roughly the time the empire stopped growing. Once the empire stopped growing, economic decline began. The old religious customs of Rome gradually became replaced by growing new cults – Mithraism, Christianity, etc – which finally were all amalgamated under Constantine into a single religion (which contains elements of all of its components).

    Anyway, this is just another way of looking at it all…

  52. idlex, This is a chicken and egg problem. I agree with your connection of freedom and prosperity. And I agree that freedom is threatened whenever prosperity is threatened. But to continue to argue the toss, I suggest that freedom is, on the whole, the leading indicator. In other words, freedom is more likely to lead to prosperity than prosperity is to freedom. Indeed, the first-world at the moment seems to be going through one of those bouts of self-flagellation where, out of apparent guilt for its success, it gradually whittles down the freedoms of its citizens in the name of society, equality, security, health & safety, etc. If there are cycles in economic history, I suggest that the “wetness” brought on by prosperity and the “dryness” brought on by poverty are partly responsible.

    I can think of plenty of examples where prosperity resulted in a loss of freedom. I struggle to think of many examples where freedom resulted in a loss of prosperity. Post-communist Russia, maybe, but its circumstances are peculiar (e.g. the weakness of the institutions necessary to protect freedom) and it looks like a temporary reversal. Post-Yeltsin Russia, of course, is an example of prosperity being accompanied by a loss of freedom. Now they have a little prosperity that is worth protecting, they are prepared (eager, even) to sacrifice liberty for security, forgetting Franklin’s warning that “they that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

    Of course, this does not imply the reverse. Just because prosperity can lead to a loss of freedom, it does not imply that a surrender of freedom will lead to prosperity. The causal relationships would seem to be:

    Increasing freedom -> Increasing prosperity
    Increasing prosperity -> Increasing or decreasing freedom
    Decreasing freedom -> Decreasing prosperity
    Decreasing prosperity -> Increasing or decreasing freedom

    The choice is whether to have freedom, not whether to have prosperity. The absence of that choice (as per our current lack of political choices) is a clear indicator that economic decline is round the corner.

  53. I agree that you can’t export democracy. But not on the basis that you have to be rich enough for democracy to work. As I said in my previous post, it’s rather the other way round (you have to be free enough for your economy to work).

    The reason that you can’t export democracy is that people must first cherish freedom and individuality before democracy can work. Otherwise it simply becomes a device for the assertion of the tyranny of the majority. Once people cherish freedom sufficiently, they will demand democracy (and equally important, property rights and the rule of impartial law). They will not need it imposed on them. The important task is not to impose institutions, but to educate the populace on the importance of freedom (a task in which the International Policy Network is leading the way).

    It is this that makes me pessimistic about the compatibility of Islam (in the broad sense, not just the views we label “extremist”) with our western model. I cannot see that there is much scope for freedom and individuality within any interpretation of the Quran. The only hope for progress in Moslem countries, and integration of Moslems in Western countries, is secularization of their politics, along the somewhat fragile Turkish model. That is why I support Boris’s strong (but I suspect hopeless) stance on Turkey and the EU. There cannot be anything more important than supporting the only serious secular, democratic Moslem state. If Europe won’t do it, I reckon the anglophone countries should form an economic association into which Turkey is welcome if it accepts secular restrictions.

    For the same reason, all this soft stuff that the Government has been coming out with about modernising Islamic studies is just moving the deckchairs. The key is to educate in the values of freedom and individuality, not to look for a softer version of their values.

  54. This is a chicken and egg problem. I agree with your connection of freedom and prosperity. And I agree that freedom is threatened whenever prosperity is threatened. But to continue to argue the toss, I suggest that freedom is, on the whole, the leading indicator.

    I think I can see what you mean. But I’m not entirely sure.

    One of the problems with using words like ‘prosperity’ and ‘freedom’ is that they are really rather vague terms. They mean different things to different people. And so any discussion involving such terms very easily gets nowhere rather fast, as people only vaguely understand each other, if at all.

    And if any attempt is made to define these terms, it is usually through using other vague terms. And the result is the same vagueness.

    Even a word like ‘work’, for example, is a vast amorphous fuzzy sort of word, which may conjure up all sorts of notions of what is meant by it.

    However, in physics, the meaning of the word ‘work’ has a well-defined, mathematical meaning. Work is force times distance, where all three terms are represented by numbers. It is, more poetically, the effort it takes to push some resistant object – like a refridgerator – a few inches across a floor.

    The result of this precise definition of the meaning of the word ‘work’ is that in physics people know exactly what they are talking about when they use this word. Its meaning isn’t at all vague. And so the result is that discussions about physics tend to get a lot further than equally earnest discussions about ethics or politics, where the terms are not so precisely defined.

    In fact, it seems to me that this is largely the reason why physics is so wonderfully well developed, and ethics and politics and so forth seem to never get anywhere.

    And so the only way that I can see to have a really productive discussion of ‘prosperity’ is to first define it precisely using the already precise terminology of physics.

    So, maybe in my next posting here, I’ll perhaps try and provide a precise definition of ‘prosperity’. And I’ll see if I can do it without actually employing any physics. This may prove well nigh impossible.

  55. Idlex. Just a small comment about Physics. When I was at school I loved the subject until I got to A Level. They then seemed to be speaking in a foreign language. I left it alone for years and came back to it when I read the Bill Bryson ‘Brief History’ book. Sorry nothing to do with your post but just a vote for Physics. My real love is ethics and politics because people might not KNOW I am talking rubbish.
    Sally

  56. Even Blair probably regrets the ‘feral’ speech. Not one of his most inspired/in touch.

    Blair has gone. Let the Conservative office learn.

  57. idlex, Before you waste too much time trying to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the study of the human sciences, try Ludwig von Mises’s Theory and History for the necessary differences in one’s methodological approach.

    I agree definitions are awkward, though, and “freedom” in particular is a vague and subjective term. I’d put a link to the Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom as an illustration, but I believe a second link would get me moderated again, so I’ll leave those who are interested to google it – it’s a provocative, libertarian assessment.

    The truth is, rigorous definitions and analysis are possible, but require more space and time than is feasible for blog comments. One can only hope that one’s generalizations chime with others’ views. The only practical way to get past the generalizations is to defer to literature where this has been set out in the necessary detail. I therefore refer you to the varied works of Prof. Mises for a full explanation of the perspective I have been trying to expound.

  58. I’ve been reading this discussion quietly and with interest. Are you, Idlex and bgp, falling into the same trap as the global warming priests? A major criticism of their climate prediction models is their failure to take account of factors other than those on which they are fixated, in particular the effects of CO2. Water vapour is one such.

    And so your freedom/prosperity equation may well be flawed by its failure to allow for emerging dimensions to society for which there is no historical precedent. For example, instant communication is such a powerful force that it skews historical evidence to the point where little can be learnt from it. The “global village” is an entirely new phenomenon where politicians can not only apply each other’s ideas within days but share the approbation of the global political community for doing so, building itself a kind of global oligarchy from which we feel isolated and powerless.

    Have you noticed how the smoking bans and global warming bandwagons rolled at such a fierce pace? And I was wondering where this idea of a drink-sail limit suddenly came from. Have a quick Google – lo and behold, it’s spreading like the pox in the litigation-crazy USA. What a wonderful new initiative for NuLab ministers like Ladyman who are bereft of ideas while under orders to look busy.

    Technology itself is distorting the freedom/prosperity balance. You can be rich in remote controls yet extremely poor in personal well-being, enslaved by the entertainment industry’s idea of what will make you happy. Idlex is right – these terms need to be defined before you can draw any more conclusions.

  59. idlex, Before you waste too much time trying to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the study of the human sciences, try Ludwig von Mises’s Theory and History for the necessary differences in one’s methodological approach.

    I think I’ve already wasted far too much time on it to abort the enterprise now. I will go ahead and post my physical definition of ‘prosperity’ anyway. I think that moragmac will be able to understand it. Heck, after all, I was hopeless at A-level chemistry. (O-level too, if the awful truth be told).

    As for Ludwig von Mises, I haven’t checked out your link yet, but I well remember ploughing through about 6 chapters of Human Action about 30 years ago, bewildered by the repeated attacks on socialism that littered it. Years later I met an economics lecturer, and remarked on these interruptions, and he said: “But they were the whole point!!” Poor me, I’d been thinking Mises actually had something substantive to say between his repeated attacks on socialism…

    Anyway, perhaps you could yourself explain why you think the methods of the natural sciences are inapplicable to the human sciences? Humans are, after all, physical objects that have mass, length, velocity, etc. So why not treat them as part of natural science?

    I know the reason why natural scientists won’t try it. And it is because they’ve never managed to get around David Hume’s 250-year-old objection that you can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. Scientists regularly pop up and say something like, “We can only describe what is the case, not what ought to be the case.”

    But I think Hume’s just still got ’em fooled.

  60. I’ve been reading this discussion quietly and with interest. Are you, Idlex and bgp, falling into the same trap as the global warming priests? A major criticism of their climate prediction models is their failure to take account of factors other than those on which they are fixated, in particular the effects of CO2. Water vapour is one such. (PaulD)

    Have we become fixated on anything so soon? This discussion has only been going for a day or so.

    It’s a bit of a relief to forget about global warming that long.

    And so your freedom/prosperity equation may well be flawed by its failure to allow for emerging dimensions to society for which there is no historical precedent. For example, instant communication is such a powerful force that it skews historical evidence to the point where little can be learnt from it.

    There isn’t any freedom/prosperity equation. At least, not yet. But I’m working on it right now.

    And we don’t have instant communication. And we never will. All this started happening with the invention of the printing press in 1066 or whatever, and we’re just going a little bit faster, that’s all. The internet may be Gutenberg squared, but it’s still not a very big number.

    And I simply don’t understand how this increasing speed of communication ‘skews historical evidence’. Are you bringing in some relativistic idea here?

    Finally, I would like to say that, if we were all sitting together in some smoky pub, the rate of communication would be a darn sight faster than it is here!! There’s a good argument I can see that the internet, far from speeding up communication, actually slows it down.

  61. As a self confessed ‘not very good at Physics’ I was interested in your comment (PaulD) on global warming. I attend daytime lectures at our University and we had a lecture on Climate Change from an 82 year old Physicist. He was scathing about Global warming and convinced us. I was quite chuffed that I understood him. Actually I am putting myself down as I am a Biochemist!!

    Sally

  62. I have to say this Idlex, I would love to sit around in a pub but up here in Scotland there is no chance it would be smoky!.

    Sally

  63. Sally said:

    I think you should put her [Beryl’s] name forward for woman of the year…

    Seriously it is time more notice was taken of the majority of very kind people who just get on with life and look after others that come their way.

    Where is this cafe? We could all come and visit.

    Great idea, Sally. Beryl deserves to be woman of the year far more than some plastic millionairess. You’re right about the other unsung heroes too, they all deserve recognition.

    I’m not sure if I should reveal where Beryl’s cafe is without her agreement – in case the council’s anti-smoking stasi target Beryl, photograph her having her ciggie break on the steps in the yard and fine her £80.

    An £80 fine would be about half a week’s pay for Beryl.

  64. Though I’m joking when I refer to the government’s secret, anti-smoking squads with their hidden cameras as the stasi, that’s not far from the truth, is it?

    What sort of government, what sort of people, would require local authorities to set up squads of secret smoking control police with hidden cameras, just to hound ordinary, hard working people like Beryl? It beggars belief.

    One of the many hypocritical and disgraceful aspects of these new anti-smoking regulations is the absurd incongruities they create or ignore.

    The steps in the yard where Beryl takes her cigarette breaks are directly in front of double doors leading onto a filthy and rubbish strewn hell hole of a delivery/parking area. It’s the local fly tip. There, every day, lorries and vans belch out fumes 1000 times more noxious than those from Beryl’s cigarettes.

    That’s where Beryl blows her cigarette smoke, out into that, literally rat infested, fume filled unloading area and rubbish tip.

    The whole area reeks with the smell of ancient curries, greasy burgers and burning cooking oil too – though not from Beryl’s cooking, I hasten to add! I’ve seen drug addicts inject themselves out there and lager louts, stinking of booze, stumbling out of the local pub to spill out into that area in the evenings.

    How anyone could possibly claim that the fumes from Beryl’s cigarette in any sense offend more than that is beyond me.

    If only one of our politicians would look into the lunatic incongruities these ill conceived regulations will lead to and expose the, largely pointless, control freakery for its own sake that’s behind them.

    Isn’t there a politician anywhere who cares about hard working Beryl and the 13 million others just like her?

  65. Agent Provocateur said:

    So NuLab are Stalinist/Islamist airheads, are the Tories then top-hatted greedy exploiters? Grow up children. I don’t like NuLab and I do like the new Tory leadership, but the way you talk you can only aid Brown’s electoral prospects as people realise what paranoic exaggerated nonsense this is.

    Do you not get out much, Agent Provocateur? Among the majority of the ordinary working people with whom I spend much of my working day, classing nulabour as tin pot Hitlers and worse is commonplace. Isn’t that why even Brown is forced to try to provide the antidote to his poisonous reputation by telling jokes about Stalin now?

  66. … we don’t have instant communication…. And I simply don’t understand how this increasing speed of communication ‘skews historical evidence’ (Idlex)

    Take another look at Blair’s speech, quoted above:

    In the 1960s the government would sometimes, on a serious issue, have a Cabinet lasting two days. It would be laughable to think you could do that now without the heavens falling in before lunch on the first day.

    That is just one example of how instant (OK, very fast) communication has altered the dynamic of politics. Decisions are made in haste, with an increasing whiff of autocracy, to satisfy an audience braying for immediate answers. That’s not only the media but others in high authority, maybe in Europe or the WHO.

    Email can be a wicked master, incomparable with Caxton’s leisurely methods.

  67. PaulD, The climate-change models take significant account of water vapour, but the scale of the feedback mechanisms influencing atmospheric humidity, and the impacts of that humidity in the form of clouds are uncertain and subject to disagreement. But that’s bye the bye.

    With regard to the “freedom/prosperity equation”, as you put it, I am sure we are ignoring many significant factors. But that is not the same thing as saying that the factors under consideration do not count. Are you proposing that freedom is an insignificant factor in the growth of prosperity? To that, you may well answer, “it depends what you mean by freedom”. You and idlex both ask for definitions. Fair enough. I take Hayek’s definition of freedom (or liberty): “that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as is possible in society”. Do you doubt that freedom defined in those terms is essential (not the only factor, but a sine qua non) to the growth of prosperity?

    I suppose you will carp that I have still not defined prosperity. This seems to me a less contentious word than freedom, but for the avoidance of confusion, I use the word in the sense of “material wellbeing”. There is a hint towards the end of your post that you would take a broader definition – including other forms of wellbeing besides the material form. I could argue about the merits of one or other definition, but it would just be semantics. There are two distinct concepts here, and I don’t very much mind what labels we attach to them. For the sake of argument, let’s call them “narrow prosperity” (mine) and “broad prosperity” (yours). Do you doubt that freedom in its Hayekian sense is essential to the growth of prosperity in its narrow sense?

    Whilst I am happy to consider also a notion of prosperity defined in your broader sense, I do not recognize your picture of the person impoverished and enslaved by the modern entertainment industry. Not because there aren’t plenty of braindead viewers and listeners, but because your description implies a passive rather than an active role for those consumers. No one holds a gun to my head and tells me to listen to or watch their latest productions. If I don’t like them, I should turn them off. The fact that I could imagine being richer in quality media offerings does not make me poor. If I choose to succumb to the ephemeral attractions of junk TV, I am not enslaved by that choice. By virtue of being my choice, it is an act of freedom, however much I may hate myself for taking it, and the media for offering it.

    So I agree with you and Blair (and disagree with idlex) that instant communications have a distorting effect, but that distortion is the result of our preferences, not an imposition from above. It may be that the speed of communications is only relative, as idlex suggests, and that it may get quicker yet, but it is already sufficiently quick that careful consideration is made very much more difficult than previously. For example, I find it hard keeping up with the pace of this blog, which is likely to lead to mistakes, inaccuracies, misunderstandings and false conclusions on my part. It takes a very great effort, perhaps disproportionate to the value and certainly unsustainable in the long-term, to try to avoid those mistakes.

    When you say that the speed of modern communications skews historical evidence, I think we need to be careful about the context. I cannot see that the speed of current communications can skew very easily the historical evidence of past events. I think you mean the empirical evidence – the relating of policy and philosophy to current real experiences. The speed of communications does not prevent historical analysis of the current empirical evidence in the same way as would have occurred previously – provided that historians still allow themselves time to investigate and consider. The threat to our historical picture of today, viewed from tomorrow, would come if people were foolish enough to imagine that the polaroid snap of instant media-reporting were a full and accurate record. That is a real possibility, but it is a matter of individual choice and therefore not inevitable. It will become inevitable if people are not wise to the limitations of instant media, which is why I (like you, I think) believe Blair was commenting on something significant, however much it may stick in the craw that it was he that said it. Boris thinks people are wise to those limitations, but I think Boris, as a journo, is being disingenuous, or (more charitably) optimistic.

    The problem (and the solution) lies with us – the individuals who choose to demand instant satisfaction. The implication of Blair’s warning (and where I differ strongly from his conlusion) is not, for me, that something needs to be done about the media, but that people need to wake up and start demanding something better. The media will provide it if enough people demand it.

    Christ knows, this could do with more careful re-reading, but I have to get up again in under four hours (following three hours sleep last night), so it will have to do. Still, I shall make my contribution to the resistance against instant communication by holding off from replying to the other messages until I have more time to give them proper consideration.

  68. The freedom based argument citing Locke as contrasted to the European centralised tradition certainly would seem preferable to the histrionic accusations of ‘Stalinist’ that I described as ‘paranoic exaggeration’. The atrocious mode of ruling by dictat, along with many other things, has to be countered. I look in on Guido’s and I find his totally deregulated libertarian stance interesting, but those who shout so simplistically in the comments loose credibility. They think they’re a pack that’s scented blood, but they sound more like a pack of rabid feral dogs, and you shoot them on sight in the aussie bush (hey Bliar … I can do the ‘feral’ bit too!). It’s OK as comments over on G’s, but I don’t think it’s the language Boris and the boys should be using. I regard the smoking inspectors with cameras as evidence that they are mad … suggest immediate reverse psychology tactic of taking pictures of them and posting them on those kind of sites the kids hang out on and such like. Locke is considerably less utilitarian than tends to be believed.

    Now Rousseau could string a good line together, “Man is born free (unless his mum’s in BUPA), and everywhere he is in debt.” But if we see ‘obedience’ in more modern terms of self discipline/social responsiblity etc, I think Pestalozzi hit close to the mark when he said, “Truth is not a one-sided thing, Liberty is a boon, and obedience likewise. We must join what Rousseau sundered.” Kant described Rousseau’s philosophy as ‘barbarism’, I’ve no idea where, I once noted it down in a totally non-relevant place because it made me laugh.

    [How can Gorgon Broon be ‘Stalin’, he ain’t even got a moustache, Josef had a big beautiful moustache, even Hitler had a moustache, but only an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny pathetic little one, nothing like Uncle Josef’s. McBroon don’t even have one at all?]

    I would disagree with the comment on ‘anarchy’, whilst what is stated is the view of the kids who wear the ‘A’ in the ‘O’, most of whom don’t know what it means (‘Anarchy is Order’), it would scarcely describe anarchism as a political philosophy. I have great regard for Kropotkin’s ‘Mutual Aid’ and his attack on social Darwinism, pointing out that the specie is at it’s weakest when the evolutionary change has taken place, they’ve only just survived, and is at it’s healthiest and strongest when there’s plenty for all. He also suggests that we have both induividual competitive drives and that amazing human altruism and the formation of those ‘mutual aid’ groups, socialist ideals (if there are any ‘socialists’ with ‘ideals’ left) in some ways growing out of this. The problem is that they compete for dominance, we need to integrate them. I pointed out recently elsewhere the error of equating ‘people’s courts’ and ‘vigilante committes’ to ‘mob rule’, many of those who advocate mob rule would fall victim to such institutions if they existed, not that I’m advocting it, you understand? Some years ago a hacked Rand Corporation document advised the US Army to become more ‘anarchic’ in its approach to the internet. That made me laugh too.

  69. PS: ‘Enslaved by the modern entertainments industry’, sounds like the Frankfurt School ….. ‘the media is the opium of the people’ ….. “but NuLab sell ya a bum deal.”

  70. To that, you may well answer, “it depends what you mean by freedom”. You and idlex both ask for definitions. Fair enough. I take Hayek’s definition of freedom (or liberty): “that condition of men in which coercion of some by others is reduced as much as is possible in society”. Do you doubt that freedom defined in those terms is essential (not the only factor, but a sine qua non) to the growth of prosperity?

    Hmmmm. In my planned physical definition of prosperity (which may need to be posted in the forum rather than on this ephemeral thread), I intend to measure the prosperity of a lone individual, a sort of Robinson Crusoe washed up on a deserted island. He will, by the very definition of his circumstances, not be subject to coercion by others. But will his solitude render him a free man? Is freedom something that can only be taken away by other people? “Hell is other people,” wrote Sartre. Does hell begin only when Man Friday shows up?

    I suppose you will carp that I have still not defined prosperity. This seems to me a less contentious word than freedom, but for the avoidance of confusion, I use the word in the sense of “material wellbeing”.

    ‘Material’ implies some sort of physical matter, and so ‘material wellbeing’ suggests some sort of physical state of being, like being healthy, warm, comfortable, and well fed.

    For me the word ‘prosperity’ seems to gesture more towards some large house with sweeping gardens, its tables laden with sumptuous food, its cellars stocked with wine, its walls decorated with old masters, its rooms warmed by glowing fires, its chairs upholstered, its beds soft. And a house of which one has just become the proud owner, and in which one stands, in one’s Saville Row suit, adjusting one’s Old Etonian tie, before glancing at the Rolex on one’s wrist, and noting that Madonna will be arriving in a few minutes, and then Sting, and finally Paul Macartney. “Ah, prosperity at last!” one says out loud to oneself.

  71. The word ‘prosperity’ is of Latin origin. Sperare means ‘to hope’, and pro means ‘for’. So prosperity is simply whatever one hopes for.

    Which might be absolutely anything. One prospers when one’s dreams come true, whatever those dreams might be.

    That large house with sweeping lawns might not be what one hoped for. Nor those guests either.

    Perhaps we should stop using Latin words whose meaning we have forgotten, or never knew in the first place. Rather than speak of a prosperous man, we should speak of a man who got what he wanted.

  72. Might I suggest, as a starting point for a definition of prosperity, visiting Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

    You could say that prosperity is acheved when the first two elements are fulfilled – that’s biological and physical needs (air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep), and safety needs (protection, security, order, law, limits, stability).

    Prosperity can exist in the absence of the higher elements (belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation). Indeed a great many people who by any measure would be counted as “prosperous” lead miserable lives because one or more of these is missing. And this is where it starts to get complicated.

  73. Up at the other end of the scale from Beryl, I read in the Spectator a week or two back the resignation letter of Andrei Navrozov from Brook’s Club.

    The chairman had sent out a letter to its members setting out the new rules. “We shall be allowed to designate bedrooms as smoking bedrooms where the occupant, but no one else, may smoke.” And it went on to say that, “It is likely that the roof is the only practical option for smokers,” although if no smoking is allowed within some distance from a building, not even this would be permitted. “There will be a direct telephone line from which anyone may make a call to complain to the bureaucracy charged with enforcement of the legislation if smoking takes place.” So snitching will be encouraged. It ends, “We shall have a final dinner to honour tobacco before its use in the Club slips into oblivion. Snuff will be available in the bar on a trial basis.”

    So it will be as bad at Brook’s Club as it will be in Beryl’s Bar. There is at least a dismal uniformity to it.

    But I wonder whether Beryl’s going to go out for a bash to ‘honour tobacco’ before its use ‘slips into oblivion’? It smacks of an abject defeatism. As Nazi panzers motored up to London from Brighton, would the members of Brook’s have held a final valedictory dinner to ‘honour English liberty’ before it slipped into oblivion – or armed themselves to fight the enemy at their gates?

    Navrozov accuses the chairman of being a bureaucrat, a hypocrite, and a coward. He hadn’t even called an extraordinary committee meeting. Nor temporised, nor even written to the Times.

    I bet if Beryl were chairman of Brook’s, she’d have been screaming blue murder, and pulling every string she could.

  74. In respect of words like ‘freedom’ and ‘prosperity’, perhaps we simply have to recognise that they are imprecise, and live with it. English serves our purposes well enough for most things in life – the things we see and touch and hear. It’s just not very good at expressing abstract ideas or feelings. Perhaps only poets can ever manage to get our grounded, nuts-and-bolts language to fly.

    A friend of mine once said that expressing ideas with language was like throwing darts at a dartboard: you never could quite say exactly what you meant. But after three or so tries, you might manage a fairly good approximation.

  75. Marx said that the freedom from want was the prerequisite for all other freedoms. I find Maslow somewhat Business School/Adult Ed/technicist Penguine psychology iffy. Freddy said, “… the ‘old maids’ of scholarship and the technicist ‘breadwinners’ may belong to different regiments, but it is the same army.”

    I suspect that we’re still wild Anglo-Saxons, as opposed to the more ‘regimented’ Germans, and we’re spiced and infused with Celt which influences our perceptions, no matter what our racial origin and no matter how we try to intellectually validate it. As a nation we don’t like being told what to do. In many ways it’s as simple as that. We are both ‘a nation of small shopkeepers’ and a ‘nation of pirates and poets’ at the same time, whatever skew may or may not occur in an age of text that could potentially change while you’re reading it.

    Weber started out attempting to refute Marx, he ended up much closer to agreement with him.

    I disagree over Portillo. I only spoke to him once on the phone and we exchanged a few letters, but I don’t go with the ‘power’ slur. As I pointed out to a local NuLab zombie who said he was a Thatcher minister, as if that warranted Nuremberg, he abstained on several key issues. It’s his intellect and historical analysis that I would like to see evident. I thought Letwin was good on Newsnight.

    That ‘only in the bedrooms’ bit makes smoking sound like sex. Will it be Colombian ‘snuff’ that’s freely available on the bars of gentlemen’s clubs? I suppose if the Dutch approach were adopted all smokers could smoke super-skunk instead, as long as there was no tobacco with it.

  76. You could say that prosperity is acheved when the first two elements are fulfilled – that’s biological and physical needs (air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep), and safety needs (protection, security, order, law, limits, stability). (PaulD)

    I think I can use this to introduce a physical measure of prosperity. But I’ll start off by simplifying these needs down to just two – food and drink -, and assume that all the other needs are already met.

    I’ll consider a man whose only needs are of food and drink, and who lives under a tree upon which their grows a fruit – a breadfruit or a coconut or something – which provides both the food and drink that he needs. Let us say that he needs to eat just one of these fruit to live for another day.

    Now, let us further suppose that these fruit do not just fall off the tree for him to collect at the bottom, but that he has to climb the tree to pluck and eat the fruit from its branches. And let us also suppose that he climbs the tree every day to pluck and eat one of the fruit before descending again to sit beneath the tree, or do whatever he likes, for the remainder of the day.

    But how long is the remainder of the day? Well, that all depends how long it takes him to climb up the tree, pluck and eat the fruit, and climb back down. Now it may take only a minute of two for him to climb up, another couple of minutes to wolf down the ripe soft fruit, and another minute to climb down. In which case the remainder of the day is pretty much the whole day.

    However, it might take a lot longer for him to climb the tree. The tree may be very tall, and its branches a dense thicket. And it might be difficult for him to find a fruit in its dense foliage. It might take him half a day to climb up and eat and climb down again. It might even take almost the entire day. In which case, the remainder of the day may be a few short minutes. The most time he can spend up the tree is all day. If he needs to spend longer, he’s in trouble.

    In the first case, the fraction of the day that he spends sitting at the bottom of the tree is nearly equal to 1. And in the second case, the same fraction of the day is nearly equal to 0. And so this fraction, which I’ll call F for now, can range from 0 to 1. It gives the fraction of his time that he can devote to sitting at the bottom of the tree, or whatever else he feels like doing. And the other fraction, 1 – F, gives the fraction of his time that he is busy finding and eating fruit.

    Now the value of F, I suggest, is an important measure of how life is going for him.. Let’s imagine that one day he injures himself slightly, such that it takes him twice as long to climb up and down the tree. Now if F was 0.8 before he was injured, then he spent 0.2 of a day up the tree, and this would increase after the injury to 0.4 of a day, and so F would fall to 0.6. But if his initial F was 0.2, and he spent 0.8 of a day up the tree, then this would increase to 1.6 of a day. He’d have to spend over one and a half days per day up the tree finding fruit to eat. But the maximum time he can spend up the tree is only one day per day, i.e. all day, and F must be 0. If it takes him longer than a day to find the fruit he needs to survive for another day, he’ll slowly starve and die. So F = 0 is death’s door. So, regardless of anything else, he is safer from death the higher the value of F. So F is a measure of safety or security.

    Also, if F falls, he finds he’s spending more and more of his time doing just one thing – climbing up and down the tree, finding and eating fruit. But as F rises, he finds himself spending more and more time sitting at the bottom of the tree, or doing whatever if wants to do. So the higher the value of F, the more time he spends doing what he wants, rather than what he must to survive. When F = 0, he can never do what he wants or likes to do. When F = 1, he always does as he wishes. And since, in one plausible Latin meaning, to prosper is to do as one wishes or hopes, then F is a measure of prosperity.

    This is a simple imaginary circumstance. Real life is obviously far more complex. But it’s a start. And F can be described in terms of physics, of work and power and energy.

  77. This is indeed a good article by Boris and the highlight of enfeebled Tony Blair clinging to his office like a drowning man clutching at a straw for the last time is most certainly rewarding.

    What a pity though that Chairman Gordon and the rest of the creeping fascist brigade, namely Nu-Labour, aren’t going along with him. I sincerely hope that Cameron is not going to follow in footsteps which could in any way be described as similar. I am no longer prepared to tolerate the continuing erosion of our liberties and if it means civil disobedience, then so be it. Bring it on!

    I should also hope that if the Tories come into power that they will privatise that running dog of PC politics called the BBC. I resent deeply paying a licence fee for a corporation that is supposed to be about serious quality broadcasting and yet ends up as nothing more than a PC/Nu-Labour/Middle Class Pinko mouthpiece. “Pravda” someone called it on another string and how right they are: it is an appropriate title for a media organ that has sold out quality for a narrow minded audience of puritans, finger wagging moralists and the prissy sections of the middle class. To think it represented the voice of freedom during World War II. Now look at it!

    With regard to the smoking ban issue, this is a government that has failed in so many ways to improve the quality of our lives and instead turned the UK into something rapidly approaching a prison camp. Hardly surprising then that it should waste so much time and money on something so unimportant. Second hand smoke, in the quantities in which we normally experience it, has never be shown to kill anyone and, moreover, this government and its cronies in ASH and public health have failed to achieve one of one of the most civilised acts a society can undertake, that being, the identification of the dead. In addition, the so called charity ASH acts ultra vires (beyond its powers) and should not be involved in politics to the extent that it is and nor should it have been permitted to wield the power over our lives that it now exercises. It is one of the most mendacious organisations on the planet and it should be investigated by the Charity Commissioners and its wings severely clipped. Better still, disband it!

    Set the people of Britain free for we are not children but adults and rightfully deserve autonomy over our own lives, choices and decision making!

  78. AP said:

    Marx said that the freedom from want was the prerequisite for all other freedoms.

    Marx also said that wealth and profit were derived from the unpaid labour of the workers. Then disproved that theory by living off his Capitalist pal, Engels.

    Marx didn’t seem to apply the freedom from want theory to the servant of his he got pregnant. He didn’t appear to apply it to his wife and children either, since, after a brief spell as a journalist when young, he never appears to have been motivated to find work.

  79. …this is a government that has failed in so many ways to improve the quality of our lives and instead turned the UK into something rapidly approaching a prison camp. Hardly surprising then that it should waste so much time and money on something so unimportant. Second hand smoke, in the quantities in which we normally experience it, has never be shown to kill anyone…

    So neatly put, Twinkles.

    As for you, Idlex, aren’t you supposed to do workings-out in the margin? 🙂

  80. As for you, Idlex, aren’t you supposed to do workings-out in the margin? 🙂

    What? Do you want me to post equations???

    I can do it if you want. But I don’t think you need me to. After all, Melissa doesn’t.

  81. Re: Use of ‘Latin words’. As far as I’m aware the bulk of the Latin in our language is that introduced by the legal and medical professions long after Rome had departed our shores. What romance language there is has been filtered through Norman French before it collided head-on with Anglo-Saxon. Notions over Latin originate from Oxbridge scholars who tried to force English grammar into the Latin mold despite the fact that it doesn’t fit, English grammar would appear to have more of the Jute about it than anything else. Does anyone still regard grammar as the ‘rules of the language’? I love shooting at that one.

    Re: Maslow. Who did the moral censorship job on his brain?

    Right-on over much of Karl-baby Liberty, though his living off Engles doesn’t disprove his theories over wealth creation and exploitation, it simply demonstrates the wisdom of having rich friends rather than working for a living (why do you think I’m cultivating this cyber relationship with Boris?). Yes, Marx always knew where his next meal was coming from, usually Engles. He was also a bit of a parliamentarian when all is said and done, as Bakunin pointed out.

    I don’t really care what things are called anymore, there’s ample evidence to demonstrate the economic and societal advantages to involving workers in production both economically and in team-tasking, from Waitrose to Volvo. Anyway, I’d rather fly a Spitfire with Beryl than attempt even comic algebra (with a very serious point) when I’m still trying to wake up.

  82. Now the value of F, I suggest, is an important measure of how life is going for him….So F is a measure of safety or security.

    Crusoe managed to get so good at climbing trees and picking fruit that he managed to get F up to 0.95, though he was never sure whether he was better off than when F was only 0.75. But sadly, because he thought his life was going well and that he was relatively secure, he was killed by a wild animal, or froze to death on a winter night. Or if he survived, he spent the rest of his life on that island sitting under that tree, because he valued only enough food and water to survive, and not improvements in his lot (building shelter, collecting firewood, fishing, hunting, searching for other fruits, perhaps cultivating some of them, making hunting, fishing and farming implements, constructing a means to escape the island or to attract the attention of passing ships, etc).

    Is it really a measure of security or of how life is going? Is it a meaningful measure, and if so, is it measuring those things (which are not the same, and I doubt have identical values in all circumstances)?

    1. Is F ordinal or cardinal? You assume that F=0.4 is twice as secure or good as F=0.2, and F=0.8 is twice as secure or good as F=0.4. Is it really possible to say more than that F=0.8 is better than F=0.4, which is better than F=0.2? Is it meaningful to transpose “time left after carrying out one essential task” into a mathematical value for more amorphous concepts?

    2. Is F subjective? I get bored sitting around. I would rather be working. If the only useful task I carry out is climbing up the tree, I may feel that a lower value of F is better than a higher value, upto a point. The obvious answer is that a higher value of F does not mean that you sit around, but that you have more time to do other things. But then you have admitted that you are measuring the wrong thing. Because what matters is not how long it takes you to carry out one task, but how much satisfaction (or “utility” as economists would call it, of which security will be a part) you can gain from a variety of activities given limited resources (of which time is one example). You are back to Lionel Robbins’ definition of economics – “The science which studies human behavior as a relationship between given ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”

    3. Is F capable of interpersonal comparison? Let’s say that you had invented a useful measure of security or quality-of-life for Crusoe. Would you be able to compare Crusoe’s F with Man Friday’s F in a useful way? Could you aggregate them and talk of their combined or average security or quality-of-life? If Crusoe’s F was 0.6 and Man Friday’s F was 0.9, and Crusoe then increases his F to 0.9 while Man Friday’s F falls to 0.8, are they more or less secure, better or worse off? Crusoe economics is only worthwhile if you can find a useful way to expand from the singular to the plural.

    I’m sorry guys, but this is old stuff. You are reinventing the square wheel. They were trying to work this sort of thing out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is one of the many culs-de-sac up which mainstream economics trudged during the last century, that era of intellectual and cultural dead-ends. If you want a particularly full exposition of it, try Arthur Pigou’s tome The Economics of Welfare, published in 1920 (and then tell me whether you think Human Action is hard work in comparison). And if you want to understand why this is a cul-de-sac, try Murray Rothbard’s 1956 article Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics.

    And by the way, what you are defining as “prosperity”, economists generally refer to as “welfare”, to distinguish the broader notion of wellbeing or quality-of-life from the narrower material requirements of life. One can have prosperity but a low quality-of-life (think Britney Spears or the Queen), or have little fortune or property and yet have a high quality-of-life (think Mother Theresa). It depends what you value and whether you have enough of it.

    “What people value” is in the spiritual and subjective realms, about which government and policy can do little. All that government and policy can do is try to create the conditions in which people can most effectively pursue the things they value and satisfy their wants. A free society, with as little government-intervention and -cost as is consistent with the protection of those freedoms, and where social cooperation is coordinated voluntarily through markets, is the best way to achieve that end. Hence freedom -> prosperity.

    There are so many outstanding points to deal with, but this is badly reducing my F. Or is it? Maybe this is my favourite fruit.

  83. idlex, Before you waste too much time trying to apply the methods of the natural sciences to the study of the human sciences, try Ludwig von Mises’s Theory and History for the necessary differences in one’s methodological approach. (bgp)

    Now that I’ve Gorn & Dunnit, as they say, I guess I should now find out why it was thoughtcrime.

    I suppose the best thing to be done with cannibals is to give them a book like Eating People Is Wrong.

    I shall be interested to find out what was wrong with my methodology by reading Theory and History. It looks a bit long though. Can anyone summarise it in one paragraph?

  84. idlex, Is that (Eating People is Wrong) a deliberate reference to a marvellous Flanders & Swann sketch, or just serendipity?

    If it were possible to summarize a book in one paragraph, I guess it wouldn’t have made much of a book. But you could start with this paragraph from the Introduction:

    Epistemologically the distinctive mark of what we call nature is to be seen in the ascertainable and inevitable regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena. On the other hand the distinctive mark of what we call the human sphere or history or, better, the realm of human action is the absence of such a universally prevailing regularity. Under identical conditions stones always react to the same stimuli in the same way; we can learn something about these regular patterns of reacting, and we can make use of this knowledge in directing our actions toward definite goals. Our classification of natural objects and our assigning names to these classes is an outcome of this cognition. A stone is a thing that reacts in a definite way. Men react to the same stimuli in different ways, and the same man at different instants of time may react in ways different from his previous or later conduct. It is impossible to group men into classes whose members always react in the same way.

  85. Whoops! I spoke two minutes too soon. I may not have to trudge through Theory and History after all.

    But sadly, because he thought his life was going well and that he was relatively secure, he was killed by a wild animal, or froze to death on a winter night.

    I thought I’d made it clear that ‘all other needs were met’. This Crusoe’s island was an imaginary island, free of wild animals (except perhaps brilliantly-coloured and highly talkative parrots)and of an equable temperature. In thought-experiments, one begins with simple cases.

    However, since you have introduced a wild animal onto the island, Crusoe will obviously have to defend himself. Instead of just sitting under the tree F of the day, he spends this time constructing a protective cage around its base, using branches from the tree. Since construction and maintenance of the cage requires physical work, just like climbing the tree, and the cage is essential for his survival, he now has to not only work to maintain himself but also his protective cage. So F will fall. This is exactly the same as if he was injured. If F was high before this animal showed up, he’ll be able to build the protective cage quickly. If F was low, it will be slow going, and he may well find himself being eaten. The higher his F, the greater his ability to defend himself.

    Or if he survived, he spent the rest of his life on that island sitting under that tree, because he valued only enough food and water to survive, and not improvements in his lot (building shelter, collecting firewood, fishing, hunting, searching for other fruits…

    It’s not that he valued only enough food and water to survive, but that is all he needed to survive. Crusoe expends a certain amount of energy each day. And that is what he needs to replace by eating fruit, and maintain an equilibrium energy store. If he doesn’t eat enough, his internal energy store will dwindle, and he’ll get thinner. If he eats too much, he gets fat.

    And in what way does it improve Crusoe’s lot, as measured by F, to hunt and fish and search for other fruits? He’ll only get fat.

    1. Is F ordinal or cardinal?

    I really don’t know. F is a number between 0 and 1. We know that F=0 is death’s door. Should F ever become 1, Crusoe is (possibly) immortal. So F=1 must be heaven’s gate. But achieving F=1 is probably impossible, a bit like reaching the speed of light.

    2. Is F subjective?

    No. Of course, Crusoe may get bored sitting F of his time under the tree, and can wander off and talk to the parrots, or perhaps contemplate his circumstances, wondering what life is all about. Why, he might even use F to read Mises’ Theory and History, looking for the bit that says that the methods of the natural sciences are inapplicable to those of the human sciences.

    Since F is the measure of his prosperity, the only useful thing he can do is increase F. And since F has just decreased since the arrival of that feral animal, he would do well to kill it before it kills him. For with its death, F would go back up to its previous level.

    3. Is F capable of interpersonal comparison?

    Yes. In principle at least. If Man Friday shows up, he will have his own value of F.

    But for them to find and compare their actual values of F, they need clocks to measure time. Fortunately, they live inside a clock. The stars and sun revolve above them like the hands of a clock. (though it would be more accurate to say that the hands of a clock revolve like those of the celestial stars).

    You are reinventing the square wheel.

    And proud I am of it. You have to start somewhere. But I think that as the corners get knocked off, it will gradually become perfectly circular.

    And I’ve never seen anybody trudge up the particular cul-de-sac that I am. In English a cul-de-sac means a dead end street. In French it means the arse of a bed. i.e. the way out.

    The real difference between the approach I am taking and that of neoclassical economics is that I am only concerned with the physics of what is happening when people work, and neoclassical economics is concerned with psychological states like ‘happiness’, ‘pleasure’,and ‘satisfaction’. Or, to put it another way, neoclassical economics regularly assumes that F=1, and Crusoe is always free to do whatever he likes, and so what he does or does not like – his psychological state – is the only thing that matters.

  86. idlex,

    And so this fraction, which I’ll call F for now, can range from 0 to 1. It gives the fraction of his time that he can devote to sitting at the bottom of the tree, or whatever else he feels like doing.

    Should F ever become 1, Crusoe is (possibly) immortal.

    Have you noticed that, according to this definition and conclusion, the unemployed and the retired are immortal?

    And in what way does it improve Crusoe’s lot, as measured by F, to hunt and fish and search for other fruits? He’ll only get fat.

    Either you’ve just demonstrated my point that F is not a meaningful value, or you really believe that variety cannot improve Crusoe’s lot. In that case, let’s have a communist system, because we need consider only those things that are objectively necessary to sustain life, and not people’s subjective preferences. Can I get off the island first, though?

    Since F is the measure of his prosperity, the only useful thing he can do is increase F.

    Do you not feel that this is just a little circular?

    We are trying to establish whether F is a meaningful measure of security or quality-of-life. And your defence of F is that, as you have defined it as a measure of security or quality-of-life, increasing F is “the only useful thing he can do”. What if your definition is wrong? You cannot use the assumption that it is right to support the assertion that it is right.

    This is similar to this Government’s attitude to targets. “We define average exam grades as the measure of educational standards”, they say. So by definition, educational standards must be rising if average grades are improving. Never mind whether that was a realistic definition.

    If I were Crusoe, I would not be trying to maximize F. I would be using the time available to me to do what I could to satisfy my wants and improve my lot (F=0). I might allow myself a little free time every day (F=0.1). But I would not regard an increase in that free time (say F=0.5) as an improvement in my security or quality-of-life. Indeed, if I were sitting around or talking to the parrots or reading Theory & History for too much of the day, when I could be improving my diet or defences or chances of escaping, I would be very nervous and regard both my security and quality-of-life as diminished, relative to a lower value of F. You may well feel differently, but that is the point. Not all Crusoes are the same. This is subjective.

    Measurement implies objectivity and cardinality. A universal or standard measure of security or quality-of-life is an oxymoron.

    But I think that as the corners get knocked off, it will gradually become perfectly circular.

    It will be more useful as a doorstop.

    And I’ve never seen anybody trudge up the particular cul-de-sac that I am.

    There are lots of places I have never been and things I have never seen. Doesn’t mean nobody has been there or seen them.

    The real difference between the approach I am taking and that of neoclassical economics is that I am only concerned with the physics of what is happening when people work, and neoclassical economics is concerned with psychological states like ‘happiness’, ‘pleasure’,and ‘satisfaction’.

    I throw definitions right back at yer. Define what you mean by “physics” in this context. What is the relationship between physics and security and quality-of-life? I haven’t noticed much physics, as I understand it, so far. A bit of maths (e.g. proportion of time spent climbing trees). Perhaps a little chemistry and biology (how much of the various nutrients are required to sustain life, though you have provided only a proxy measure and a bunch of assumptions for these factors). But not much physics.

    Neo-classicals would hotly deny that they are primarily “concerned with psychological states”. Indeed, “psychological economics” was a term used in the early twentieth century to try to disparage and differentiate Austrian economics (whose exponents would themselves deny the validity of the appellation) from the neo-classical and Marxist alternatives. My Oxford Dictionary of Economics defines “neoclassical economics” as “The approach in economics of analysing how individuals and firms should behave to maximize their own objective functions, assuming that activities are coordinated by the price mechanism, and that markets clear so that the economy is in equilibrium at all times.” You are closer to the neo-classicals than you imagine. Both you and they think that one can derive “objective functions” to describe, categorize, measure (etc) human behaviour, when in reality you cannot escape subjectivity in human action.

    Or, to put it another way, neoclassical economics regularly assumes that F=1, and Crusoe is always free to do whatever he likes, and so what he does or does not like – his psychological state – is the only thing that matters.

    I don’t have much time for neo-classical economics, but I would defend them from this false characterization. Can you give me an example of a neo-classical economist assuming that F=1?

    Remember, that is not the same thing as assuming that Crusoe pursues his desires. You seem to be dividing Crusoe’s activities into (a) fulfilling his physical requirements, and (b) fulfilling his desires, as though his physical requirements are not part of his desires. It seems to me fairly self-evident that we all desire the fulfillment of our physical requirements. This is not two distinct sets. One is a subset of the other. They have not assumed that (a) is zero just because they treat (b) as a whole.

  87. bgp, I knew of the book, although I’ve never read it. It floated into mind because in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe there were cannibals.

    Epistemologically the distinctive mark of what we call nature is to be seen in the ascertainable and inevitable regularity in the concatenation and sequence of phenomena. On the other hand the distinctive mark of what we call the human sphere or history or, better, the realm of human action is the absence of such a universally prevailing regularity. (Mises)

    One can sort of tell from this passage that Mises was no physicist, or at least knew little or nothing of the history of physics.

    The “ascertainable and inevitable regularity” of nature was only discovered after hundreds – nay, thousands – of years of close examination of it, under the presupposition that there was an order underlying it. We humans have only slowly constructed the natural sciences to their present state, and we’re still working at it. There was nothing ‘inevitable’ about the discovery that the natural world behaved in regular ways. Mises is simply taking science for granted. He also seems to be unaware of a probabilistic quantum mechanics in which the outcomes are uncertain. As Rutherford once put it, “Once every few million years, a kettle on an unlit stove will boil.” Or at least that’s the gist of what he said. If it was him.

    Human beings are also part of the natural world, to the best of my knowledge. They are very complicated and mysterious, much like the weather. But if it is possible to discover an order in the natural world, and humans are part of that natural world, then in principle it ought to be possible to discover the order underlying human nature. The ‘absence’ of such a regularity to human nature really only signifies that we still don’t know what it is – not that there really isn’t any.

    Put another way, the absence of scientific understanding of the natural world through the bulk of human history resulted in the natural world being regarded as being as capricious and fey as the human world.

  88. Wow! And to think that I thought the ‘F’ stood for the same as on Gordon Ramsey.

    The human psyche? Layers of an onion I reckon.

    Wasn’t it the Bud who taught something like … ‘all human life is suffering, suffering is created by desire, if you want to free your life of suffering first rid yourself of desire’?

  89. Before I continue, I’ll set out some of the physics underlying F.

    Crusoe has a resting basal metabolic rate b watts, and when he sets to work to climb up and down the tree he performs work at an extra rate b watts, and while he is working he gains energy from the fruit he eats at the rate c watts. (This is a slight approximation, given that I’ve located all the food energy in one single fruit. It would be true if Crusoe eats small berries as he climbs up and down the tree.)

    Crusoe’s day is divided into climbing and plucking and eating Tc, and resting at the base of the tree Tr, where Tc + Tr = 1 day.

    At equilibrium, where the net energy gain in one day is equal to the net energy expenditure, we can write

    b + a.Tc = c.Tc

    so Tc = b / (c – a)

    F is resting time per day, and given Tr = 1 -Tc

    F = 1 – b / (c – a) (1)

    Assuming b is always going to be some value >1 for a living thing, and c cannot be infinite, F can never equal 1. Given that F can only range from 0 to 1, any value of F less than zero indicates a non-viable life. Strictly speaking death is F=0, death itself is F<0.

    If someone doesn't have to do any extra physical work to get food energy, and their metabolic rate doesn't rise when they acquire food energy, then a = 0, and

    F = 1 – b / c (2)

    I hope I didn’t get anything wrong there.

  90. Yup, of course I did.

    When he sets to work to climb up and down the tree he performs work at an extra rate a watts, not b watts.

  91. I presume that the Bud would have meditated under the tree and the fruit would have fallen to him. The ‘F’ factor would have then been directed up through his chakras, thus achieving the criteria for both stances without moving.

  92. bgp,

    Have you noticed that, according to this definition and conclusion, the unemployed and the retired are immortal?

    I know you want to get off the island, and stop considering Crusoe on his own, and think of the actual society in which we live. But that’s a bit like saying “Can we leave off all these definitions of work and energy and power, and the laws of motion and gravity, and please get on to doing real rocket science?”

    The unemployed and the retired are part of a society, which will have its own average F, in which other people are working to feed them.

    or you really believe that variety cannot improve Crusoe’s lot

    F determines how much variety there can be in Crusoe’s life. If F=0, he is working to stay alive the whole time, and can’t do anything else. Or at least, if he does, he pays for it with his life. It’s only his resting time (or leisure time) that he can do what he likes, which may include adding variety in any way he likes. I have no objection to variety. It is, as they say, the spice of life. But he can only have any variety to the extent he has any F.

    We are trying to establish whether F is a meaningful measure of security or quality-of-life. And your defence of F is that, as you have defined it as a measure of security or quality-of-life, increasing F is “the only useful thing he can do”.

    F might be regarded as a kind of ‘degree of freedom’ that someone has. F=0 is no degree of freedom at all, and F=1 is the most complete degree of freedom. When F=0, Crusoe spends all his time working to find food, and has no freedom. When F=1, Crusoe can do exactly what he likes all the time, and has complete freedom. The only ‘useful’ thing that Crusoe can do to increase his degree of freedom is to increase F. Which he might do by installing a rope ladder to get up and down the tree quicker. I agree that that Crusoe can add variety to his life in his resting or leisure time, and there may be some ‘utility’ to this. It depends how you define utility.

    If I were Crusoe, I would not be trying to maximize F. I would be using the time available to me to do what I could to satisfy my wants and improve my lot (F=0). I might allow myself a little free time every day (F=0.1).

    You really haven’t quite understood Crusoe’s awful predicament. The only ‘time available’ to Crusoe is F.

    Can you give me an example of a neo-classical economist assuming that F=1?

    They all do, to the best of my knowledge. For a start, they don’t know anything about F, because economists don’t think using the terms of physics, and so you’ll never find equation (1) in my previous post in any economics textbooks. No, they regard time just like you do, as “the time available to me” which just sort of arrives every day automatically. And then they wonder how to dispose of this time between leisure and work. One example dragged off the web:

    This can be shown in a diagram (below) that illustrates the trade-off between allocating your time between leisure activities and income generating activities. The linear constraint line indicates that there are only 24 hours in a day, and individuals must choose how much of this time to allocate to leisure activities and how much to working. (Wikipedia Labour economics -Neoclassical microeconomic model — Supply) .

    I can only understand the above if F=1, and people can choose how to allocate this free time as they like, satisfying their wants. If people can really choose how to allocate their time between work and leisure, then an economy is simply a game we all play, making and trading things we like, and which we can drop out of whenever we like. If the economy is just a jolly great game, much like football or something, then in the terms I’m using (which economists have never heard of: show me one who has if you think there are any), then F=1, or F is assumed to be 1.

    Crusoe would dearly love to choose to ‘allocate his time’ between leisure and fruit-income-generating activities, but he has no choice in the matter. Crusoe’s time is already allocated by F. It is only during the relatively brief F of resting or free time that Crusoe gets each day that he can choose how to allocate his time, the rest of the time (1-F) he must spend finding fruit – or die.

    You seem to be dividing Crusoe’s activities into (a) fulfilling his physical requirements, and (b) fulfilling his desires, as though his physical requirements are not part of his desires.

    I’m certainly dividing Crusoe’s activities into two parts, Tc and Tr. And in Tc he is fulfilling his physical or biological requirements, which he has to do whether he likes it or not, on pain of death (remember, there’s nobody else on the island to look after Crusoe). And in Tr he does whatever he likes. During Tc, he is constrained to a single activity. During Tr he is unconstrained to any one single activity.

  93. bgp, in many ways all I’m saying is that humans have to work to survive. They may have to work a lot, or only a little. F measures that amount. After we’ve done this inescapable, necessary work that we can do as we like – rather than as we must – in the remaining time left.

  94. Complicated but more interesting then S. Rushdie. I’ve bookmarked it for when I’m on holiday.

  95. idlex (5:34PM),

    1. This is maths, not physics. There is nothing empirical here, nor much about the properties of matter. This is pure deductive reasoning from logical identities. That’s not a criticism – logical deduction is a more appropriate approach to what you are trying to do. But we shouldn’t annoint this with the false legitimacy of scientism.

    2. Your formula F = 1 – b/(c – a) is true as far as it goes, but what is that telling us? We already knew that viable existence lies in the range 0 < F < 1, by definition (in other words, you can't spend less than 0 hours per day sustaining your existence, and if you need more than 24 hours per day to carry out the activities necessary to sustain your existence, you are in trouble). I'm not sure I see how the special case where it takes no extra effort to sustain life (F = 1 – b/c) is going to lead us to greater insights. Nor do I see what you are going to do with the more general case. I’ll be interested to see if this leads to something useful. So far, all we seem to have is

    (a) You’d better consume more energy than you use each day, or you’re in trouble, and

    (b) The amount of time you have left after gathering food each day is dependent on (i) your inactive metabolic rate, (ii) the increase in your metabolic rate from food-gathering, and (iii) how quickly you can consume calories while gathering food.

    I don’t feel that I am closer to a measure of freedom, prosperity, security or quality-of-life with these statements. How exactly are we supposed to use this?

  96. AP (5:14PM), Sounds like one of the Taoists. Lao Tzu? He seems to have been vindicated by the intervening 2500 years of bureaucratic and oppressive government, the root of his pessimism.

    But though tempting to take his advice and just head for the mountains, I think it is cowardice not to fight against the dead hand of authority and for the freedom to fulfil one’s desires. At some point, you will look back on your life and ask what it was for, and if you simply retreated from the world, the answer will not be kind. I prefer the following, less succinct but braver attitude to the frustrations of life:

    Scarcely one person in a million succeeds in fulfilling his life’s ambition. The upshot of one’s labors, even if one is favored by fortune, remains far inferior to what the wistful daydreams of youth allowed one to hope for. Plans and desires are shattered on a thousand obstacles, and one’s powers prove too weak to achieve the goals on which one has set one’s heart. The failure of his hopes, the frustration of his schemes, his own inadequacy in the face of the tasks that he has set himself – these constitute every man’s most deeply painful experience. They are, indeed, the common lot of man.

    There are two ways in which man can react to this experience. One way is indicated by the practical wisdom of Goethe:

    Dost thou fancy that I should hate life,
    Should flee to the wilderness,
    Because not all my budding dreams have blossomed?

    his Prometheus cries. And Faust recognizes at the “highest moment” that “the last word of wisdom” is:

    No man deserves his freedom or his life
    Who does not daily win them anew.

    Such a will and such a spirit cannot be vanquished by any earthly misfortune. He who accepts life for what it is and never allows himself to be overwhelmed by it does not need to seek refuge for his crushed self-confidence in the solace of a “saving lie”. If the longed-for success is not forthcoming, if the vicissitudes of fate destroy in the twinkling of an eye what had to be painstakingly built up by years of hard work, then he simply multiplies his exertions. He can look disaster
    in the eye without despairing.

    Or, as Kipling put it more succinctly, “be a man, my son”.

  97. Oops. My post of 12:19PM seems to have got mangled. The middle of the second paragraph should read:

    We already knew that viable existence lies in the range 0 < F < 1, by definition (in other words, you can't spend less than 0 hours per day sustaining your existence, and if you need more than 24 hours per day to carry out the activities necessary to sustain your existence, you are in trouble). I'm not sure I see how the special case where it takes no extra effort to sustain life (F = 1 – b/c) is going to lead us to greater insights.

    Copy and paste problems, I think.

  98. And again. Not copy-and-paste problems, then. It’s getting mangled in transmission. It may be an HTML translation problem. I’ll try translating the less-than symbols. Forgive me if this looks like the same claptrap again. It’s truncating a couple of sentences each time.

    We already knew that viable existence lies in the range 0 < F < 1, by definition (in other words, you can’t spend less than 0 hours per day sustaining your existence, and if you need more than 24 hours per day to carry out the activities necessary to sustain your existence, you are in trouble). I’m not sure I see how the special case where it takes no extra effort to sustain life (F = 1 – b/c) is going to lead us to greater insights.

  99. You forgot one vital aspect of your prosperity formula, idlex, the day a periscope appears on the horizon and moves towards the island.

    A few of yards offshore, the periscope and attached goggles rise up out of the water, along with a great clunking fist bearing a laminated tax demand.

    “B-B-But I haven’t earned any money”, stammers Robinson.

    “No, but you’ve made a wee surplus, man, says Mr Broon and you didna think I would let you escape your wee tax liability, did you? Now cough up.”

    “But I don’t have any wee money”, gasps Robinson, I’m almost destitute, I only have this wee tree which provides just enough food for my survival – after a bit of effort and a short rest, that is.”

    “There’s your answer then”, says the clunking fist, gaping and gasping, almost orgasmically, with the delicious, jaw aching buzz of his own power.

    “No more rests, you must work to earn sufficient to pay next year’s tax. Though, as a special concession this year…gape and gasp…I’m confiscating the tree.”

    Exit the clunking fist towing Robinsons tree behind him. As he disappeared beneath the waves, the clunking fist was heard to cry, “Oooh, TAX, lovely jubbley!”

  100. idlex (4:38PM),

    One can sort of tell from this passage that Mises was no physicist, or at least knew little or nothing of the history of physics.

    You ask for a summary, I give you an extract, you take an extract from that extract, and then claim that it demonstrates ignorance. Perhaps, but whose ignorance? Is it possible that the context of this paragraph (i.e. the book) might have provided justification for his view and considered the sort of criticisms that you levy? Can you imagine how easily we could make each other sound dumb if we went around gratuitously taking each other out of context?

    Mises may have been wrong, but I do not think his views on this were so superficial and ignorant that they can be dismissed with a superior snort of contempt. Of the two most famous philosophers of science of the twentieth century, one (Karl Popper) by-and-large shared Mises’s methodological dualism, and the other (Thomas Kuhn) had a complex philosophy that could accommodate a monist or a dualist paradigm, but would certainly not agree with your suggestion that there has been a continuity in the development of science over thousands of years.

    The “ascertainable and inevitable regularity” of nature was only discovered after hundreds – nay, thousands – of years of close examination of it, under the presupposition that there was an order underlying it….There was nothing ‘inevitable’ about the discovery that the natural world behaved in regular ways.

    If the science was carried out on a “presupposition of order” paradigm, it must have been fairly likely that what the science would discover was behaviour “in regular ways”. That’s what it was looking for. But I don’t understand what this point is aimed at. Did anyone say that this discovery was ‘inevitable’? There is a difference between discovery of inevitable regularity and inevitable discovery of regularity. I don’t think Mises was “taking the science for granted”. I think you’re taking his words out of order to contest a point that he didn’t make.

    We humans have only slowly constructed the natural sciences to their present state, and we’re still working at it.

    Relatively slowly, but the Copernican/Galilean/Newtonian paradigm was a real break from the preceding approach, and of course, we have had further breaks with that paradigm since then. However much it may have had in common with ancient scientific understandings, this effectively had to be worked out again from scratch. So we are talking hundreds, not thousands of years. And for most of that time, people have been trying to apply the methods of maths and physics to the understanding of human as well as natural phenomena.

    Pitirim Sorokin, a Harvard sociologist, coined the terms “quantophrenia” and “metromania” to describe this uncritical application of scientific methodology to fields of study where it was inappropriate, from the seventeenth century to this day. Speaking of the early efforts, he wrote:

    “The mathematical study of psychosocial phenomena was especially cultivated in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. Spinoza, Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton….and others, began to build a universal quantitative science, Pantometrika or Mathesis universae, with its branches of Psychometrika, Ethicometrika, and Sociometrika designed for investigating psychosocial phenomena along the lines of geometry and physical mechanics. ‘All truths are discovered only through measurement’, and ‘without mathematics human beings would live as animals and beasts’, were the mottoes of the Social Physicists of these centuries.”

    William Letwin, Professor of Political Science at the LSE (and father of Oliver), describes the “simple belief” of those involved in the seventeenth-century scientific revolution “that many things in nature, as yet mysterious, could and should be measured precisely”. This included economic and social phenomena. His warning may be relevant: “Hand in hand with this revolutionary ideal went a devout but misplaced notion that to measure and to understand were one and the same. Restoration scientists believe that to cast a mathematical mantle over a problem was tantamount to solving it”. (Quotes from Sorokin and Letwin courtesy of Murray Rothbard’s Economic Thought Before Adam Smith.)

    So the difference between the natural sciences and the human sciences is not that we have been applying the physical methods to the natural sciences for longer, but that we have had success in applying those methods to the subjects for which they are intended, and less success in applying them to the human sciences. There is a reason for that.

    He also seems to be unaware of a probabilistic quantum mechanics in which the outcomes are uncertain.

    To be clear, Mises did not deny that, at some point in the future, science might advance to the point where human thought could be reduced to physical phenomena. But he did deny that the current state of understanding was even close to that point, and that, even if such a point were reached, it would invalidate the alternative methodology that economists have developed from the methodologically dualist perspective that is necessitated by the state of our physical understanding of the human thought process.

    I have no idea about the extent of his knowledge of quantum mechanics. But it is one thing to posit an aspect of modern physics that is not certain. And quite another to suggest that this particular (and peculiar) aspect of physics has any applicability to the human sciences. Regardless of the uncertainty, there is still a fundamental difference between quantum mechanics and human action. The uncertainty of quantum mechanics is not the result of conscious thought.

    But if it is possible to discover an order in the natural world, and humans are part of that natural world, then in principle it ought to be possible to discover the order underlying human nature. The ‘absence’ of such a regularity to human nature really only signifies that we still don’t know what it is – not that there really isn’t any.

    Maybe. But what makes that impossible so far is the limited extent of our understanding of the physical causes of the subjective thought process. If the methods of the natural sciences are to be applicable, they will have to find a way to deal with subjectivity. You will not get there by treating human beings as robots, and measuring the basic physical processes that allow them to exist. It will require minute understanding of what goes on in our heads – cause and effect.

    Personally, I hope we never get there. However much modern psychology is undermining the notion of free will (this might well be a good place for you to start), I hope we will never reach a point where our actions are utterly predictable, where we are functioning effectively as automata, simply responding in predictable ways to external stimuli. This may be your utopia, but it is my dystopia.

  101. Returning to the very much easier subject of smoking, for those of you who want to express your view on the ban, we are holding a poll over at pickinglosers. It’s currently 2 to 1 against.

  102. bgp said:

    smoking poll…2 to 1 against

    Easy to see why that is – the requirement to register in order to vote. Smokers tend to be non-conformists who detest excessive regulations. So the result is skewed. I refuse to register so shan’t be voting.

    Also, moving the skewed methodogy and result to one side, around a third of voters in favour of smokers’ rights is a mighty large minority.

    Are you suggesting that the views and civil rights of a third of the adult population, some 13 – 14 million people, should be ignored,bgp?

  103. Liberty,

    (a) That’s two to one against the ban

    (b) You don’t have to register to vote

    (c) I have explicitly opposed a full ban. I would like you to have the choice to go out for a drink and a smoke, and I would like the choice to go out for a drink and not have to sit in your fug. Is that unreasonable?

    Get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning, did we?

  104. plangency
    n : having the character of a loud deep sound; the quality of
    being resonant [syn: resonance, reverberance, ringing,
    sonorousness, sonority, vibrancy

    I am most impressed , Boris
    and you are right , Blair is a hypcritical nause .

    You also said : I
    “I have now been writing columns in this newspaper for almost 20 years, and in the past couple of years the game has completely changed. We fat-cat columnists face a new and terrifying threat. It is called consumerism. It is called democracy ”

    Yep . And the smug sovereignty of Westminster Village is now under siege . England has been occupied by the British state for 300 years and we now want – demand – self rule . Please do not try the old line that Westminster IS an English parliament . It most certainly is not .

    England needs
    An English Parliament , perhaps in a federal British state .
    An English government .
    An English PM / first minister .
    Fiscal independence .

    If the English decide collectively to remain part of Great Britain then we will also need an English Office .

  105. Dear bpg, you are entirely correct, I did get out of bed the wrong side his morning – indeed I had to roll out of it thanks to a virus that’s given me low back pain. All of of my colleagues have this lurgy too, so watch out everyone, as it may be coming your way

    So may I offer you my unconditional apology for, not reading your posting properly, most unfairly projecting my bad temper at you and ending up only twitting myself? 🙂

  106. Liberty, Only the natural expression of the frustrations of an oppressed minority. We all feel like that pretty often nowadays.

  107. Thanks for the lesson in philosophy of the sciences bgp, enlightening; I find Idlex’s equations far too much ‘mechanical universe’. I can’t help thinking of ‘time and motion’ study when I read it. I think it suspect in a similar way to behaviourism, which Chomsky punctured and deflated. Wasn’t it Aristoltle who first warned of transposing concepts from one discipline to another? It seldom works, though it is very fashionable these days.

    Lao Tzu is ‘cool’ (a concept that the Chinese had great difficulty in translating when I once asked some students to attempt it), the journey of a thousand miles does indeed start with the first footstep, and that first step out of one’s own door is indeed the hardest to take, but I tend to see the point as being in the journey itself rather than the arrival. But despite that, I’ll still ask out of devilment …

    Should our castaway ever achieve the mighty F=1 and become immortal, given this immortality might he then seek genius? If he achieves ‘genius’, can he then be expected to raise his F factor and thus widen his scope to infinity? And is Simon Cowell going to judge this ‘F-factor’ contest?

    Poor old Robinson was sold out by Adam and Eve, they only ate from the tree of knowledge, since they’d already been caught scrumping they might as well have had a bite from the fruit of the tree of life as well.

    I’ve been an oppressed minority of one for all of my life!

    A fair bit of present psychology would appear to depend on chemical intervention, while being so focussed on the brain and major channels (such as those opened up by SSRIs), I feel certain bits of the mind slip by unnoticed. It’s similarly simplistic and reductivist.

  108. If the methods of the natural sciences are to be applicable, they will have to find a way to deal with subjectivity. You will not get there by treating human beings as robots, and measuring the basic physical processes that allow them to exist. It will require minute understanding of what goes on in our heads – cause and effect. (bgp 3:41 am)

    ‘Robot’ is an interesting word. It seems to have an eastern European origin, and means something like ‘worker’ or ‘serf’. In science fiction, a robot is a soulless mechanical servant, who may revolt against its human masters. Although recent versions, like R2D2 in Star Wars, are given personalities. A robot, these days, would seem to be an updated version of the Roman idea of a slave, who were also gradually recognised as being as fully human as their masters.

    I suppose, in many ways, the word ‘robot’ describes something that is devoid of personality. At a party once, I met someone who said that she thought all animals were robots, that simply mechanically did things, devoid of feelings or emotions. Anyone who has ever had a treasured pet, a cat or a dog, knows that this is not true. I could only think, afterwards, that if she saw animals this way, she probably saw humans that way too.

    In some ways, this begins to outline the point you are making about subjectivity. You applauded StevenL when he asked if he asked “What if Crusoe likes climbing trees?” “Finally,” you breathed with an almost audible sigh of relief, “Someone else who gets subjectivity.”

    But I think we all get subjectivity. We do it all day every day. I get out of the wrong side of the bed every day these days, as the smoking ban looms like a black cloud ever nearer.

    But, to answer Steven’s question about Crusoe, it doesn’t matter what Crusoe feels about climbing trees. It makes no difference whether he likes it or loathes it, he still has to do it, if he wishes to live. Crusoe’s attitude to his circumstances does not change them in any way. Just as whether or not we like the season or the weather does not change it in any way.

    But I would suggest that, if Crusoe ever thinks or feels anything, it is only when he is sitting beneath the tree. For while he’s climbing the tree, his mind must be set upon reaching for the next branch, gauging whether it will support his weight, all the while scanning the foliage around him for fruit. Crusoe is too busy to think about whether he enjoys something or not at the time he’s doing it. It’s only afterwards, when he’s not busy, that he can subjectively reflect upon the day.

    I like climbing trees too. I used to climb lots of them. The last time I climbed I climbed a tree was some 10 or 15 years ago. I was alone walking in a wood, and encountered a yew tree, with branches so numerous that they created an inviting staircase. As a boy I’d climbed such trees many times. They were the easiest trees to climb. And within seconds I found myself clambering up it, moving easily upwards. Eventually I stopped, with fond memories renewed. I stayed a while not too far from the top of the tree, and then decided to descend. And the descent proved immensely difficult, as I waved my feet around trying to gain purchase on the branches below. I had entirely forgotten that it is much easier to climb up a tree than to climb down. And I realized that my shoes were entirely inappropriate anyway. My delight turned to fear. Would I ever manage to get down again? Of course, I did get back down. It had taken me less than 5 minutes to gleefully climb up, but it took something like an hour of sweating anxiety to climb down again. I don’t think I’ll ever climb a tree again. That last tree I climbed was the most memorable tree I’ve ever climbed, for the exhileration and delight of climbing up it, and the terror of climbing down it. But, in many ways, what I felt about it was inconsequential. Once committed to that venture, I simply had to get on with it and do it. My own feelings about it, if anything, were an obstruction. And what I felt about it at the time was not something that rushed over me when I was actually in motion. I only felt anything when I was standing still, contemplating my circumstances, first in elation, and then with terror. And there was far more terror than elation.

  109. A gain, on subjectivity, I suppose that astronauts feel some kind of wonder or elation or awe as they orbit the Earth. They usually say they do. Very often, it seems to be a religious experience.

    But I do not see that rocket scientists should attempt to factor in this subjective experience into the equations of motion and gravity by which they calculate the orbits of spacecraft.

    Equally, I think that the proof of the theorem of Pythagoras is something quite separate about what a mathematician or anybody else may feel about it. I’m quite sure that it was with triumph and elation that Euclid completed his proof of it, just as Archimedes was to leap from his bath shouting “Eureka” at another rather geometrical discovery. And I also, I have no doubt that, as Euclid or Archimedes recounted their discoveries to their friends, they all shook their heads and said,

    “So what? Does this tell us anything? I mean, Euclid, what does it matter if the square or cube of two sides of a triangle equal the square or cube or whatever of the other side? Is this something worth knowing? Is anyone ever going to use this proof to do anything useful? Or, more to the point, subjectively pleasurable? You really ought to get out and about a bit more. You spend too long poring over your little drawings.”

    “Hear, hear,” another pipes up. “And, your little drawing isn’t very pretty. It looks a bit lopsided to me. My young son can draw better pictures than that. Why don’t you at least colour in the those triangles and squares. It would make it much more attractive and interesting.”

    I myself, when I first contemplated this strange proof of Euclid’s, also wondered what use it was. I gazed upon it blankly. OK, I understood the proof. But so what? What good did it do me to know this? What good anyone?

    In the event, I’ve used it again and again and again. It’s a wonderfully useful theorem.

  110. < ‘Steven_L (11:39PM), Well said that man. Finally, someone else who gets subjectivity.’<

    You shouldn’t encourage me to write silly drunken comments at midnight.

    < ‘Would I ever manage to get down again?’ (idlex)<

    That’s the fun part. When I was 13, a couple of friends and I decided to walk along the girders underneath a motorway flyover over some fields and a river. To fall would have meant certain death. My Mother would have had kittens and grounded me forever if she had known. To us it was like climbing Mount Everest, the ultimate dare.

  111. By way of good cheer everybody I have been asked to formally anounce the following:

    ENGLISH SMOKE BAN PROTEST AT BOLTON

    On Sunday July 1st, the first day of England’s smoking ban, Nick Hogan will be hosting a smoke-in as a protest against the ban.

    This will take place at The Swan pub, Churchgate, Bolton, Lancashire. Doors open at 12 ‘o’ clock midday and from 2pm there will be live coverage by Sky News. This will give many people a chance to express their views and therefore present a marvellous opportunity. See also this frightening trade damage analysis by Sky News:

    http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30400-1270997,00.html

    Nick is putting in the time and effort (as well a sticking his neck out). He is receiving plenty of support but he nevertheless asks that as many people as possible will make the effort to join him in Bolton to ensure this is a strong and worthwhile protest. All that is required is your time and energy!

    We are supposed to live in a democracy so let’s ensure that democratic principles triumph on July 1st!

    For those of you living nearer to Hereford, there will also be a smoke-in protest by Tony Blows at The Dog Inn at at Ewyas Harold, south-west of Hereford and see for further details:

    http://www.herefordtimes.com/news/roundup/display.var.1470254.0.tony_blows_his_top_over_smoking_ban.php

    There will be more protests than this but I’m not sure where they all are…Yet!

  112. You shouldn’t encourage me to write silly drunken comments at midnight. (StevenL)

    You are at your best at such times.

  113. My F was high today, as I decided to bunk off and go windsurfing (sober), but after a three-hour drive, the wind failed to cooperate. I thought I’d use a little of my remaining time beneath the tree to catch up on those immediate communications to which I had been unable to give careful consideration. Sadly, there is so much of it, and I didn’t get past the first outstanding issue, let alone to the latest posts. Does Crusoe have internet access? If so, he’ll need a lot of F.

    Besides being a measure of safety or security (19/6 4:52PM), prosperity (19/6 4:52PM & 20/6 1:59PM), how Crusoe’s life is going/his lot (19/6 4:52PM & 20/6 1:59PM), mortality (20/6 1:59PM & 5:34PM), and opportunity for variety (20/6 7:07), this multi-function function F has also been described as a measure of someone’s ‘degree of freedom’ (20/6 7:07PM). It seems that some people are not entirely convinced by Hayek’s definition of freedom as (to paraphrase) a state of minimized coercion. We have the question of whether Crusoe is free simply because he is alone (19/6 7:21AM), the Marxian prerequisite of freedom from want (19/6 4:35PM), and the ‘degree of freedom’ as the proportion of one’s time available for non-essential activities (20/6 7:07PM).

    Many Smith afficionados regard his more obscure Theory of Moral Sentiments as better (more original and intellectually-consistent) than the book for which he is famous, The Wealth of Nations. Similarly, many students of Hayek regard his Constitution of Liberty as his most important intellectual contribution, despite the greater fame of his Road to Serfdom. I realize that people don’t want homework, what with all the fruit-gathering, busy social lives down Beryl’s cafe or in the smoke-free pub, and this blog using up the rest of their F. But if you feel strongly about intrusions of government into individual liberties, and the failure of opposition parties to provide a strong, principled opposition to it, then it would be a good idea to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the missing opposition principles.

    The Constitution of Liberty, and particularly the first short chapter (only 11 pages), provides an important part of that foundation. In it, Hayek discusses the alternative definitions of freedom and their respective merits. I’ll try to save you the homework, but the potted version won’t be as good as the original.

    The first alternative to his own definition that Hayek considers is “what is commonly called ‘political freedom’, the participation of men in the choice of their government…” He points out that “it can scarcely be contended that the inhabitants of the District of Columbia, or resident aliens in the United States, or persons too young to be entitled to vote do not enjoy full personal liberty because they do no share in political liberty….The danger of confusion here is that this use tends to obscure the fact that a person may vote or contract himself into slavery and this consent to give up freedom in the original sense….Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom….though the concept of national freedom is analogous to that of individual freedom, it is not the same and the striving for the first has not always enhanced the second. It has sometimes led people to prefer a despot of their own race to the liberal government of an alien majority; and it has often provided the pretext for ruthless restrictions of the individual liberty of the members of minorities.” Smokers and immigrants beware.

    His second alternative is “that of ‘inner’ or ‘metaphysical’ (sometimes also ‘subjective’) freedom….It refers to the extent to which a person is guided in his actions by his own considered will, by his reason or lasting conviction, rather than by momentary impulse or circumstance.” This definition is connected to Hayek’s preferred definition: “the same conditions which to some constitute coercion will be to others merely ordinary difficulties which have to be overcome, depending on the strength of will of the people involved….The reason why it is still very important to keep the two apart is the relation which the concept of ‘inner freedom’ has to the philosophical confusion about what is called the ‘freedom of the will’. Few beliefs have done more to discredit the ideal of freedom than the erroneous one that scientific determinism has destroyed the basis for individual responsibility.” The scientific determinism that springs from treating man as just another physical object responding to stimuli, that is.

    The third alternative he regards as the most dangerous: “the use of ‘liberty’ to describe the physical ‘ability to do what I want’, the power to satisfy our wishes, or the extent of the choice of alternatives open to us….This metaphorical use of the word has long been common, but until comparatively recent times few people seriously confused this ‘freedom from’ obstacles, this freedom that means omnipotence, with the individual freedom that any kind of social order can secure….Once this identification of freedom with power is admitted, there is no limit to the sophisms by which the attractions of the word ‘liberty’ can be used to support the tricks by which people can be exhorted in the name of liberty to give up their liberty. It has been with the help of this equivocation that the notion of collective power over circumstances has been substituted for that of individual liberty and that in totalitarian states liberty has been suppressed in the name of liberty….This confusion of liberty as power with liberty in its original meaning inevitably leads to the identification of liberty with wealth; and this makes it possible to exploit all the appeal which the word ‘liberty’ carries in the support for a demand for the redistribution of wealth….Whether or not I am my own master and can follow my own choice and whether the possibilities from which I must choose are many or few are two entirely different questions. The courtier living in the lap of luxury but at the beck and call of his prince may be much less free than a poor peasant or artisan, less able to live his own life and to choose his own opportunities for usefulness.” Freedom from want is a redistributory, “freedom from obstacles” type of definition.

    He had also, earlier in the Chapter, clarified the closely-related misapprehension that freedom implied a range of options. “The rock climber on a difficult pitch who sees only one way out to save is his life is unquestionably free, though we would hardly say he has any choice.” A bit like the absence of choice in having to climb the tree to pick the fruit. Makes it somewhat suspect to refer to F as the ‘degree of freedom’ in the sense that it is the proportion of the day during which Crusoe has a choice over his actions.

    Before someone objects that at least some of these alternatives are perfectly valid definitions of the word “freedom”, let’s be clear that Hayek was not saying that they were invalid uses of the word. But they have very different meanings, and he was looking for that meaning of freedom that was intimately entwined in the emergence of modern, Western civilization from its medieval roots. He was looking for the freedom of Locke’s “state of perfect freedom…”, of Rousseau’s “man is born free…”, of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (well, maybe not the latter, the French being inveterate catachrestics, but at least the first three). He was looking for the definition of freedom that lay at the heart of the liberal philosophy that had brushed aside authoritarian rule and ushered in the modern era of opportunity and progress. None of the other definitions was appropriate to that purpose. Their substitution for and/or confusion with the appropriate sense of the word in political and economic intellectual constructions was the root of many false conclusions and mistaken philosophies. I think he got it about right, which is why I think his definition is the one to use in philosophical discussions on personal freedom and the relationship between freedom and prosperity.

  114. I started this a couple of nights back, but couldn’t continue it yesterday. Low F.

    1. This is maths, not physics. There is nothing empirical here… bgp June 21, 2007 12:19 AM

    No. It’s physics. Very, very simple theoretical physics, for sure. But not all physics is empirical. Anyway, who cares what it’s called?

    …we shouldn’t annoint this with the false legitimacy of scientism.

    I have no wish for this to be called ‘science’. I think my heart would sink if it ever was. I rather detest established, authoritarian ‘science’. I think real scientists are sceptics, and even sceptical of themselves.

    2. Your formula F = 1 – b/(c – a) is true as far as it goes, but what is that telling us?

    It’s telling us that there is, given some actual values of a, b, and c, a certain amount of its time, (1 – F), that any living creature has to devote to some self-maintenance activity each day to simply stay alive. It’s also telling us whether that creature can stay alive. And it’s telling us what fraction of its time, F, that creature has available to do something other than essential self-maintenance work.

    In the seasons of the natural world in the higher latitudes, there’s generally a shortage of food in winter, and a glut in summer. So the result will be that for most creatures, c – the rate at which they acquire food energy – will fall as winter approaches, and then begin rising come spring. Also, because it’s colder in winter, any mammal has to expend more energy to to maintain its body temperature, and so b – its resting metabolic rate – has to rise in winter, fall in summer. And the value of F will follow these changing values of of b and c, in something like a sine wave that peaks in summer and troughs in winter. And from that we can predict that there’s likely to be high mortality in the natural world in winter, as F drops through 0 for some of them. However, in tropical regions, where summer and winter are nearly indistiguishable, this annual stress is likely to be less intense, and F is probably going to stay pretty much the same all year round, and so more creatures are going to survive tropical winters, and thus there to be a greater abundance and variety of life. Both of these ‘predictions’ seem to tally with the actual reality.

    The same applies to plants. In high latitudes, plants will have higher lower F values, because they they get less of a solar energy income, c, from the sun at high latitudes than they do in the tropics, from their industrious leaves which harvest this solar energy. If we were to regard leaves as autonomous living creatures, then we’d find that their F values also cycle up and down through the seasons.

    However, leaves can’t work all day capturing sunlight. They can only work during daylight hours.If, on average, daylight lasts for half a day, then on average, the threshold of death for a leaf comes where F = 0.5, not F = 0. And since winter days are shorter than summer days, this threshold rises in winter, and falls in summer.

    And for some reason or other, on deciduous trees – oaks, beeches, etc -, F would seem to fall through this threshold sometime in the autumn, with the result that leaves die, and fall as autumn leaves. Somehow or other, in evergreen conifers F seldom reach this threshold, and they keep their leaves through the winter. This suggests that, for the most part, F is higher for coniferous trees than deciduous trees in the same place. And it would explain why coniferous trees can survive at higher latitudes than deciduous trees.

    However, leaves aren’t autonomous living things, but parts of trees, and they supply these trees with energy in the form of sugars which trees store in their roots. And so, rather than simply maintaining themselves alive, they are also maintaining their supportive tree. It may well be that they work continuously during daylight hours, firstly to maintain themselves, then to maintain the tree. In high latitudes, where less solar energy falls on the surface of the earth, leaves gain less energy per unit area than equatorial trees. To compensate, high latitude trees need more leaves, larger leaves, and more green chlorophyll to capture solar energy. If England always seems a strangely green and verdant land by comparison with the tropics, this may be one explanation. It is also the explanation why equatorial trees have fewer and drabber leaves: they simply don’t need any more.

    Nothing subjective here. Perhaps trees have subjective feelings. Perhaps one will post here and complain.

  115. Does Crusoe have internet access? If so, he’ll need a lot of F. (bgp)

    If he did have internet access, he’d certainly need enough F to be able to look in now and then. He’d need more to think about what he read, and to compose replies.

    It seems that some people are not entirely convinced by Hayek’s definition of freedom as (to paraphrase) a state of minimized coercion.

    But before we go on to Hayek, we might note that Hayek must have had a lot of F, if he was to sit around thinking and writing about freedom. Could busy Beryl, frying her sausages all day, and now forbidden from smoking in her accustomed place, have enough F to sit for hours turning over ideas about freedom? Probably not.

    Same goes for Adam Smith. He was, if I recall rightly, a professor at Edinburgh university. He was famously absent-minded. Which really only means that he was thinking about something else. And he was best-known in his own time for his Theory of Moral Sentiments, which set out an idea of sympathy or compassion for others. Anyway, Smith must’ve had a lot of F as well.

    As did Newton, as Lucasian professor, and nobody attending his lectures. Newton, in my reading of his university life, had F -> 1.

    Anyway, you tell us Hayek defined freedom as a state of minimized coercion. And then he went on to describe various other notions of freedom. Such as “what is commonly called ‘political freedom’, the participation of men in the choice of their government…” He then considers ” ‘inner’ or ‘metaphysical’ (sometimes also ‘subjective’) freedom….It refers to the extent to which a person is guided in his actions by his own considered will, by his reason or lasting conviction, rather than by momentary impulse or circumstance.” And then he turns to “the use of ‘liberty’ to describe the physical ‘ability to do what I want’, the power to satisfy our wishes, or the extent of the choice of alternatives open to us…”.

    he was looking for that meaning of freedom that was intimately entwined in the emergence of modern, Western civilization from its medieval roots. He was looking for the freedom of Locke’s “state of perfect freedom…”, of Rousseau’s “man is born free…”, of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, of “liberté, égalité, fraternité”

    If we take these various notions of freedom, and consider Crusoe, we first have to say that he is free from coercion, because there is nobody around to coerce him. He has complete political freedom as well, seeing as he is himself a one-man ‘state’. Skipping over the ‘metaphysical freedom’ for a moment, and looking at freedom as “the extent of the choice of alternatives open to us,” it might be said that there isn’t much for Crusoe to do on his deserted island. There’s no pub to go to, nor cinema, nor library. There’s not much for him to do, really, in whatever amount of F he has. But then, on reflection, Crusoe can actually do all sorts of things. He can sing and dance; he can think and dream; he can go down to the beach and swim and surf. The list of things that Crusoe can do is almost infinite. So, Crusoe is almost completely free in this respect.

    Now let’s go back to this ‘metaphysical freedom’. Crusoe is always making choices as to what to do next. He is not like a grain of sand being swept up and down a beach under the force of water and gravity. Even when he is up in the tree, searching for fruit, he is still making choices. He is deciding which branch to climb onto next, and considering different paths towards some fruit he has spotted high above him. The tree is as sort of labyrinth, and he is constantly required to choose between this path or that. So we can say that Crusoe is completely metaphysically free, in that he is is always doing what he chooses to do. It is his choice when he sets off up the tree. And at any moment while he is up there he can pause a while, and leave off the search for fruit, and use up a bit of F.

    And so, according to each of Hayek’s various notions of freedom, Crusoe is pretty much absolutely free, whatever way you look at it.

    But where’s F in Hayek’s various defintions of freedom? Nowhere that I can see. Yet F does seem to be a rather important kind of freedom. After all, Hayek, sitting under his tree, seems to have spent a long time thinking and writing. However, while I know that Smith was a university professor, much like Newton, I don’t know much about Hayek.

    Perhaps Hayek was climbing his tree when he wrote his books, which seem to have sold quite well. Perhaps when Hayek was sitting under his tree, he played snooker or bridge or chess, or went wind-surfing. Maybe Hayek didn’t have much F after all. Maybe Hayek spent all day furiously scribbling to earn himself a crust of bread or a coconut.

  116. An interesting thought, that last one. I generally suppose that everybody who posts here is using their F to do it in. However, this isn’t true of either Boris or Melissa. Boris, I suppose, gets paid for writing his columns. And Melissa, as his secretary, is being paid to keep an eye on this blog, among other things. So Boris and Melissa aren’t using their F when they write here. It’s part of their 1-F, the way they come by fruit. They are up in their respective trees when they’re writing here.

    From what I know of the life of Newton, his position as Lucasian professor was secure. He received a stipend, or something like it. He had various official duties, but these do not appear to have been particularly onerous. His lectures, such that he gave, were almost completely unattended. Simply by dint of being Lucasian professor, it appears that he was granted an income which wasn’t in any way ‘performance-related’. Furthermore, it seems that nobody told Newton to think about optics or gravity or calculus. It wasn’t part of Newton’s job description that he had to ‘most earnestlie considere gravitation’. Instead, it seems that after he’d performed the few duties demanded of him, Newton’s F was very high. Of course, he presumably made a bit of extra dosh selling Principia, but he published it years after he’d thought of it all.

    I’ve not read a biography of Adam Smith, so I don’t have a clear idea what his life was like. But he was an academic, and presumably on the same sort of stipend as Newton. I have no idea how onerous his academic duties were. But I suspect his job description didn’t demand that he write books on ethics and economics.

    As for Hayek, I know nothing. I’ve read the Road to Serfdom. But I’ll see what Wikipedia says about him. He seems to have flitted in and out of different universities in different countries in various capacities. It’s not at all clear in what capacity he was writing.

    It matters though. Someone who earns their living by writing has to give their paying customers what they want. They can’t just write what they like, and expect to be paid for it.

  117. I missed out the Marxian prerequisite of freedom from want, which wasn’t on Hayek’s list.

    Anyway, in the sense of wanting the necessities of life, Crusoe has them all. For him, the only necessity of life is enough fruit to eat. And there are plenty of these in the tree above him. All he has to do to climb up and get them.

    So, even including that Marxian measure, Crusoe is absolutely free.

    Phew. No need to worry about this F stuff. If Marx and Hayek agree, then Crusoe must be free.

  118. Cameron has as much charisma as the pong that comes from the waste veggie compost heap. Get him OUT. You are much nicer, Boris. I like your style and I enjoyed you on \”Have I got News for You\”. You were (are?) the most hilarious politician I have ever seen. You don\’t want to be a has-been do you? You could go far if you could untether yourself from the fence of whichever donkey field you are living in.

  119. So, even including that Marxian measure, Crusoe is absolutely free.

    Good, we agree. Crusoe is absolutely free, but his F may vary. So F is not a measure of freedom.

    What about those other claims for F, that it is “a measure of safety or security (19/6 4:52PM), prosperity (19/6 4:52PM & 20/6 1:59PM), how Crusoe’s life is going/his lot (19/6 4:52PM & 20/6 1:59PM), mortality (20/6 1:59PM & 5:34PM), and opportunity for variety (20/6 7:07)”? Can we assume from the following that you are retreating from these claims to a much more moderate claim for what F stands for:

    It’s telling us that there is, given some actual values of a, b, and c, a certain amount of its time, (1 – F), that any living creature has to devote to some self-maintenance activity each day to simply stay alive. It’s also telling us whether that creature can stay alive. And it’s telling us what fraction of its time, F, that creature has available to do something other than essential self-maintenance work.

    I am happy to agree with that – that is exactly what F stands for (allowing for the necessary simplificatory assumptions, such as that the living creature divides its time into self-maintenance and other activities). But you set out on this journey in order to define prosperity, not Crusoe’s F. So you still need to show how you get off the island (i.e. make this applicable to more circumstances than just the very limited and unreal one considered so far) and having produced a general theory of F from your special theory of F, how you relate general F to prosperity.

    By the way, Hayek was a professional academic, who (thanks to the minor inconvenience of the rise of the Nazis) in 1931 “flitted” from Vienna, where he had spent the first decade of his academic life, to the LSE, where he stayed until 1950, at which point he “flitted” again to Chicago, lasting a mere 11 years before moving to Freiburg, where he spent the rest of his life. Smith, on the other hand, spent only a small portion of his life employed as an academic, and more of it working first as tutor to the Duke of Buccleuch’s nephew, and later as Commissioner of Customs in Edinburgh, with a good period in between where he was a gentleman of leisure (F=1), though he devoted his time so assiduously to his writing that it affected his health. There are lessons here, but not with regard to their respective credibility. Their arguments stand or fall by their merits, and not by the lives that their authors led.

  120. Good, we agree. Crusoe is absolutely free, but his F may vary. So F is not a measure of freedom. (bgp)

    Well, we agree that in Hayekian and Marxian terms that Crusoe is free. But in agreeing on this, we have also agreed that there are a number of different types of freedom. Or definitions of freedom. Hayek has four of them, and the Marxian one makes up five. All this means is that the word ‘freedom’ is elastic enough to encompass a wide range of definitions of freedom. Objects may have ‘degrees of freedom’ of motion, with one degree of freeom meaning an ability to move back and forth along a line, two degrees of freedom to move across an area, and so forth. It is possible to define all sorts of kinds of freedom. So there is surely room to include F as another kind of freedom. I see no reason not to.

    F is what we already call ‘free time’, or ‘leisure’. This form of freedom is clearly not the same as Hayek’s freedom from coercion, nor his political freedom, nor his metaphysical freedom, nor his freedom of choice. Neither is it a Marxian freedom from want.

    And indeed, you reflect this notion of freedom when you describe Smith as “a gentleman of leisure (F=1)”, which is the same as saying that he was a man with a great deal of free time. (I would dispute that such people ever actually have F=1: Smith would still have had to perform some essential self-maintenance activities, like eating and so forth. Perhaps F–>1 , or F approaches 1, would be be more accurate.)

    ‘Free time’ implies some kind of freedom, but one that most particularly has duration in time, rather than extent or number. A wide range of choices implies some number of choices, but not necessarily the time in which to choose. A supermarket may offer a wide range of different goods for sale, but a hurried customer may not have the time to inspect them all, and instead simply grab the first thing he sets his eyes upon. F is, I would suggest, a measure of a temporal freedom of action. And it is this temporal freedom that seems to be missing from Hayek’s various forms of freedom, and from the Marxian notion of freedom.

    As for the other things you mention, such as F as a measure of security and mortality: it is on the scale of 0 to 1, that F less than 0 represents death, and Crusoe is is safer from death the higher his value of F above it, much like someone keeping well away from the edge of a precipice. Crusoe is, first and foremost, simply trying to stay alive.He must at very least remain alive if is he is to enjoy any of the aforementioned freedoms in any measure at all.

    You may have noticed that I have extended F to apply to all living things, plant or animal, as well as human. Crusoe could be a small beetle, but he’d still have some value of F. Whatever we call F, we are dealing with something that is fairly fundamental to all forms of life, and not simply human life with its even more specifically human notions of freedom.

  121. I am a non-smoker, but now I am tempted to start weaning myself onto the weed. I shall chew nicotine gum by the dozen and slap hundreds of patches over my skin in readiness for lst July. Then I will be well and truly conditioned into smoking mode without too many side effects, like suddenly becoming incapable of running a few metres for the bus, and losing the skill of climbing a few stairs without panting my pants off. I shall puff away and wait for the smoking wardens to arrive and issue a ticket and a fine. I shall not pay the fine, of course, and I shall be sent to prison, but I shall go on the run and they will never find me and I will continue to smoke wherever I choose.

    Labour\\\’s beating Tory in the polls, today Boris. Pull your finger out of your ear and DO SOMETHING

  122. you still need to show how you get off the island (i.e. make this applicable to more circumstances than just the very limited and unreal one considered so far)

    You’re asking Crusoe to rejoin human society. But why should we suppose that there is any human society beyond Crusoe’s island? Perhaps there are just lots of Crusoes on their own islands, living perfectly happy lives. We already know that Crusoe is absolutely free from coercion, and is politically free. Why should Crusoe want to get mixed up in coercive, hierarchical human society? He’s better off where he is.

    So how might have human societies have ever formed from a bunch of autonomous Crusoes?

    Let’s shift to a slightly different circumstance. This time Crusoe is living on a plain, and instead of having to find and eat one fruit, he has to get six different items each day, which are each to be found at geographically separate locations. In fact they are found at the vertices of a regular hexagon, each of whose sides is several miles long. Crusoe’s daily task is to walk around the perimeter of the hexagon, collecting and consuming each item in turn. Let’s suppose that it takes Crusoe 2 hours to walk from one vertex to the other, and another hour to consume or use the item he finds at that vertex. Given 6 vertices, it takes 6 x (2+1) or 18 hours to return to where he began. So Crusoe’s F is 1 – 18/24, or 0.25.

    And let us suppose that this time Crusoe is not alone. There are in total of 12 Crusoes walking around the perimeter of the hexagon, quite independently of each other, collecting and consuming the same 6 things. They occasionally encounter each other – because some go round clockwise, others anti-clockwise – and gradually get to know each other, and learn to communicate in simple ways, using hand gestures and grunts. Apart from this, they have nothing to do with each other.

    Now, let’s suppose that one day the annual rains begin, and the plain turns into gradually thickening mud. Instead of it taking 2 hours to walk around the hexagon, it takes a little longer each day. After a while it is taking them 20 hrs to get around the circuit, and then 22 hrs. F has fallen to .0833. If it gets much worse, F will fall through 0, and all of them will die.

    In this increasingly desperate situation, one of them has an idea, which gets communicated around the perimeter to the others. And the idea is that each individual should pick up two of whatever things are at whatever vertex he’s at, one in each hand, and take it to the centre of the hexagon, leave them there, and then go back to the same vertex, and get another two, and bring them back to the centre, and so on, again and again.

    If it’s currently taking 2.75 hours to walk from one vertex to the next. In this new scheme of things, assuming one individual is performing in this manner from each vertex, two of each item arrive at the centre of the hexagon every 2.75 hours, and 6 in 8.25 hours. Once 6 of the each of these things has been brought to the centre of the hexagon, the 6 people who have been bringing them each consume one of each of them, over 6 hours. And so, acting in concert, they take 14.25 to meet their needs, and F=0.41. If anyone is still walking around the perimeter, consuming items one by one, their F isnow 0.06. If the mud gets much thicker, their F will fall through 0, and that will be the end of them. But the cooperating 6 (or 12) individuals, will survive. And perhaps survive the rainy season.

    This is one account of the formation of a human society. It is formed out of necessity. Cooperative human societies, with divisions of labour, have higher F than autonomous individuals, and so they survive where autonomous individuals cannot – like when the rain comes. If autonomous individuals had higher F values than found in cooperative societies, these societies would disintegrate. But once people become mutually dependent on each other, life has become rather more complicated. Somebody has to decide who does what, and people have to perform the task assigned to them.

  123. idlex,

    You remember your comment about language and darts on the dartboard? I don’t think we’re even throwing our darts at the same board, or if we are, you have a completely different scoring system to me.

    For example, I understand the words (your words, remember) “absolutely free” as meaning “completely free” or “free without reservation”. You understand it as meaning “free in Hayekian and Marxian terms”. I admit, we have not defined “absolutely” so far, but, at risk of being accused of being pedantic or playing with semantics, I suggest that your definition of “absolutely” is an unusual one. It can be difficult to communicate meaningfully if one departs too far from accepted usage.

    Returning, with a heavy heart, to definitions of freedom (wish I’d never raised the bloody subject, though Christ knows how people can occupy a Tory blog, claim to be offended on liberal grounds by government limitations of personal freedom, and yet still feel the need to contest the proposition that freedom is a prerequisite for growth in prosperity), Hayek’s book (whose first chapter I tried to abbreviate), doesn’t simply offer a menu of definitions and say, “pick one, or if you don’t like any of them, invent your own”. The whole point was to examine different usages with a view to understanding which one represented “that ideal of freedom which inspired modern Western civilization and whose partial realization made possible the achievements of that civilization”. He provided clear explanations of why the other usages, though valid in certain contexts, lead one up a blind alley (in fact, often into dictatorship and curtailment of liberty) if used as the basis of a liberal political and economic philosophy. You seem to be treating it as an all-you-can-eat-buffet, to which you have brought your own sandwich.

    This whole discursion, which is shedding far more noise than light, started with your assertion that economic plenty leads to political freedom. I contested that view, saying that cause and effect are in the opposite direction – political freedom leads to economic plenty (I used the word “prosperity” as shorthand, but it was clearly meant with reference to your proposition and terms). You and others then pointed out, fairly (though the same could have been said for others), that I hadn’t defined my terms, so I offered Hayek’s definition of freedom (he had only one, by the way – the others were considered by him for the sake of discarding for his purposes, a point I thought I had brought out, but perhaps I paraphrased badly). You then proposed an alternative, physical definition of freedom. Since then, I think we have been talking at cross-purposes. You have been focused on developing your physical formula of freedom. I have been focused on the sense of freedom used in my proposition that freedom leads to prosperity. I have been contesting your use of F as a measure of freedom because it would not fit in with my proposition. But it doesn’t have to. If you want to use F to measure freedom in a sense that you understand it, there’s no point me arguing with that unless you progress from there to some broader point with which I don’t agree. Until that point, it’s just semantics. I’ll be interested to see where your formula leads, but I’m going to give up arguing whether it is a measure of one thing or another.

    Actually, the most useful thing about this exchange is that it demonstrates the point at the start of this thread (Blair’s point, in fact) – that instant communications reduce the quality of debate and analysis. This is the sort of fundamental issue that should be considered at leisure, with careful study of the existing literature. Examining the issue through frequent blog comments is more likely to obfuscate than to illuminate. I think we’ve proved that perfectly.

    Hayek smoked a pipe

    As did his recently-deceased disciple, Lord (Ralph) Harris of High Cross. Very subversive and non-conformist, these liberals. (That’s an excellent article you link, by the way.)

  124. Actually, the most useful thing about this exchange is that it demonstrates the point at the start of this thread (Blair’s point, in fact) – that instant communications reduce the quality of debate and analysis. This is the sort of fundamental issue that should be considered at leisure, with careful study of the existing literature.

    I’m sorry that you feel this way. I’ve felt the complete opposite. It’s made a rather delightful change to consider some fairly fundamental matters, which seldom in my experience, get much of an airing. I can’t, for example, remember the last time Blair himself expressed any opinion about the nature of freedom or prosperity. I find it difficult to imagine him even beginning to do so. Hardly anybody does.

    This is the sort of fundamental issue that should be considered at leisure, with careful study of the existing literature.

    Well, this discussion has been running for something like a week now, which seems rather leisurely to me. I’m not sure about careful study of the existing literature though. May one not think for oneself?

    You seem to be treating it as an all-you-can-eat-buffet, to which you have brought your own sandwich.

    I suppose that the answer given there is: no, you may not. If one wishes to discuss freedom or prosperity, your view would seem to be that one has to read Hayek, and probably about a few dozen other philosophers, before one can even begin to address such weighty matters.

    Yes, I brought my own sandwich. I don’t see why I should eat somebody else’s half-century old sandwiches. I don’t see why my thinking should always be second hand. I think it’s useful to read philosophy, but only as a spur to thought, never as holy writ. And I hope and presume Hayek was doing his own thinking, and not copying something somebody else had said years before him.

    As far as I can see, you’re uncomfortable with F because it’s not in Hayek’s book, from which you’ve quoted fairly extensively. I’m not sure why Hayek (and Mises) have come to occupy what appears to be such a prominent position in your thinking. If you had been a Marxist, for example, I would have been treated to several dollops of Capital by now.

    Christ knows how people can occupy a Tory blog, claim to be offended on liberal grounds by government limitations of personal freedom, and yet still feel the need to contest the proposition that freedom is a prerequisite for growth in prosperity

    Do you mean the smoking ban? Do you think that my freedom to smoke is one of the prerequisites for growth in prosperity? I’m not in the least bit concerned whether it is or isn’t. My concern about smoking is purely a concern for my freedom, and that of millions of other smokers, and not with my financial or economic prosperity. It seems to me that it is such prosperity that has allowed me to smoke in the first place, by allowing me to buy tobacco. The prosperity, if anything, gave me the freedom.

    I suppose if anything I see freedom and prosperity (these vague, ill-defined words) as being intimately bound up with one another. If no freedom, then no prosperity, as the freedom to smoke and innovate and invent are curtailed. But if no prosperity, no modicum of leisure and literacy and technology, then no freedom to innovate and invent, and smoke.

  125. It’s made a rather delightful change to consider some fairly fundamental matters, which seldom in my experience, get much of an airing.

    I felt that at first, too, but we’ve been going round in circles for some time now. I attribute that to lack of time to stay focused and to give proper consideration to what others are trying to say. The issues remain interesting, but we were starting to suffer from the law of diminishing returns.

    Well, this discussion has been running for something like a week now, which seems rather leisurely to me.

    During which time, I have posted 26 times (27, counting this one), and you have posted 42 times. I assume that you, like me, have a job and other things in your life that limit the proportion of your time that can be spent on this blog. Barbara Cartland would have struggled to keep up that pace. We’d need to be geniuses to be producing unremitting quality at that rate. I have a feeling we’re not that good.

    I’m not sure about careful study of the existing literature though. May one not think for oneself?

    You find other people’s thoughts, particularly those of intelligent people who have given the issue a great deal of consideration, an impediment to having one’s own thoughts? You may see yourself as an intellectual giant with no need of reference to the thoughts of others, but if Bernard of Chartres and Isaac Newton felt themselves to be dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants, the best I can hope to be is an ant standing on the head of the dwarf that is standing on the shoulders of the giant, and I’ve got a lot of clambering to do to get up there.

    Yours is the Nietzschean perspective – that the dwarves will bring the views of giants down to their level, and that we must rely on occasional giants (or Üaut;bermenschen) to push ideas forward. Though even Nietzsche’s giants had to communicate with each other. Anyway, I don’t much like the bastard – it may not be his fault that he was adopted by the Nazis, but I think his apologists are giving him too easy a ride in not looking for what it was that the Nazis so liked, and whether that was a creditable direction for him to have travelled. And have you tried to read his works? There’s an author you usefully could avoid. Though even in his case, it is probably better to have tested his merits for yourself, than simply to ignore him.

    Perhaps one should try it the French way, and elevate knowledge of literature to a social virtue, while trying to get away with reading as little as possible. I guess we could be worse.

    If one wishes to discuss freedom or prosperity, your view would seem to be that one has to read Hayek….

    No, but I think you should read and try to understand him before you dismiss him or misinterpret him. Same for other philosophers who have written on the subject. There are probably hundreds that I haven’t read, but if someone says to me, “read this, it’s got an interesting take”, I’ll feel that my perspective is incomplete until I’ve tried to judge that for myself.

    Of course, we’ll never be able to read it all, but we can narrow it down partly through others’ recommendations, and partly through induction. I haven’t read all or even most of Nietzsche, but I’ve read enough to think that I’m probably not missing out on the rest of it. Could be wrong, but one has to have some sort of filtering mechanism. And if someone says to me that Twilight of the Idols (which I haven’t read) is a great book that is relevant to something I’m discussing, I’ll reconsider my partial opinion of him, pending the chance to test the recommendation.

    Yes, I brought my own sandwich. I don’t see why I should eat somebody else’s half-century old sandwiches.

    Ideas don’t go out of date. They may be more or less relevant to the current situation, and expressed in language that has more or less resonance. But they stand or fall on their merits, not their age.

    My point about the buffet and the sandwich is a good example of how our wires are crossed. From the point-of-view of reaching a definition of freedom that would serve the proposal “freedom -> prosperity”, it serves no purpose to go through Hayek’s list, ticking them off as he crossed them out, and then adding your own for good measure. One needs to arrive at a preferred definition for those purposes. But your purpose, of course, was entirely different – it was to test the degree to which your definition (F) matched or contrasted with other definitions. Your sandwich is a perfectly legitimate addition to the buffet, but it doesn’t make any difference to my choice.

    I think it’s useful to read philosophy, but only as a spur to thought, never as holy writ.

    Did I suggest it was holy writ? But I would suggest that part of the thought that ought to be spurred by reading philosophy is consideration of whether the arguments seem right or wrong to you. If they are persuasive to you, they become a useful shorthand for your opinion on the subject. I can say “I adopt Hayek’s definition of freedom for these purposes” and it encompasses the full range of his argument without having to set out that argument (which ran to 500 pages) all over again and less well.

    And I hope and presume Hayek was doing his own thinking, and not copying something somebody else had said years before him.

    There is a difference between copying and considering. One can do one’s own thinking while paying due deference to those whose thoughts have influenced that thinking. The opposite, where authors have tried to claim originality for ideas that were never theirs, or worse still, have misrepresented others’ arguments in order to enhance the apparent originality of their own, is both common and very much less desirable than acknowledging influence.

    This comment may be a snide reference to my abbreviation of Hayek’s definitions, which I never disguised as anything else. I never wanted to waste my time precis’ing text for you. But as you pronounced, without reference to any specific attempts, that

    “if any attempt is made to define these terms, it is usually through using other vague terms. And the result is the same vagueness”,

    and then showed a disinclination to test this generalization by reference to those who had made such attempts (setting off instead on your own detour in response to this unproved assumption), it seemed to me that, if you didn’t have the time to read these texts (and who does?), it might help to bring arguably one of the most important of them into consideration by condensing it as far as possible. You did, after all, ask me to precis the argument in Theory and History for you. I understand now that it was a waste of time, and that it was not because of the inaccessibility of the ideas that you were not addressing them.

    As it happens, Hayek began The Constitution of Liberty with the subject of old ideas and new. Following a quote that he “copied” from Pericles, he began his introduction with:

    “If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations. What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problms that are still with us, no longer convey the same convition; the arguments do not move in a context familiar to us; and they rarely give us direct answers to the questions we are asking. This may be inevitable because no statement of an ideal that is likely to sway men’s minds can be complete: it must be adapted to a given climate of opinion, presuppose much that is accepted by all men of the time, and illustrate general principles in terms of issues with which they are concerned.”

    Old ideas adapted and rephrased to modern conditions. Old and new thinking. These are not incompatible, but intimately linked. It seems to me that you are repeating that greatest of twentieth-century mistakes – to imagine that something is good simply because it is original, or bad simply because it is old. And before you accuse me of thinking the opposite (old is good, new is bad), let me stress that I am a (classical) liberal, not a conservative (assuming you read the paper on Hayek to which you provided the link, you will have seen the reference there to the article “Why I Am Not a Conservative”, which is the context for that comment – I’ll assume I don’t need to summarize it for you, shall I?). I want neither to throw out the baby nor to keep the bathwater.

    As far as I can see, you’re uncomfortable with F because it’s not in Hayek’s book, from which you’ve quoted fairly extensively.

    I’ve given up commenting on F until it leads to something more significant than an algebraic expression of the fairly obvious statements that one has to consume enough food and drink to survive and that the more time one has to spend gathering sufficient food and drink, the less time one has available to spend on other things. I’m not uncomfortable with it, I’m unimpressed by it.

    I’m not sure why Hayek (and Mises) have come to occupy what appears to be such a prominent position in your thinking.

    Horses for courses. The common thread in what was being discussed was liberty and liberalism – freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom to smoke, etc. These two guys wrote more extensively and more influentially on the subject, from a classical liberal perspective, than most in the last hundred years. They seemed relevant to me, particularly in the context of a swing in the Conservative (and Republican) philosophy away from this sort of view. It seems to me important that we restate and fight for the principles that underlie small-government conservativism (as Americans might call it) or classical liberalism (as I would prefer). It is hard to do that without reference to them. And I haven’t even mentioned Mises’ Liberalism!

    If you had been a Marxist, for example, I would have been treated to several dollops of Capital by now.

    And if you had been a Marxist and done so, I would have been delighted to debate the merits (such as they are) of that book.

    Do you think that my freedom to smoke is one of the prerequisites for growth in prosperity?

    I think that the same mentality that bans smoking bans many other things. And that the mentality that thinks it knows what is best for us and forces us to do its bidding will take away our autonomy and personal responsibility in many other ways. And that the cumulative effect of all this banning and nannying undermines our prosperity. For example, the provision of a generous welfare safety-net reduces people’s incentive to save and increases their inclination to borrow, which artificially inflates the broad money supply, which leads to unsustainable growth, malinvestment and a bubble that is waiting to burst. So yes, I do believe that.

    The difference between us may be that I am a non-smoker and you are a smoker (I don’t know that, it is just a surmise from some of your comments). As I have said before, I hate smoke. I am only interested in your freedom to smoke because of the broader principle. It may be that you are interested in your freedom to smoke mainly because you want to have a regular fag (preferably not in the rain), and that broader principles are therefore not as important. That is just a surmise, and probably unfair. But if you are interested in the principle, then I would say it is hard to maintain that it is a narrow “freedom to smoke”, rather than part of a broader “freedom from coercion”. And interesting things, more significant than the smoking question, follow from that broad freedom.

    It seems to me that it is such prosperity that has allowed me to smoke in the first place, by allowing me to buy tobacco. The prosperity, if anything, gave me the freedom.

    And the prosperity taketh it away. You are undoubtedly more prosperous than billions of Asians, but very soon you will find that you have less freedom to smoke than they do.

    You may argue that it is governments, not prosperity, that take away this freedom. But what leads them to take it away? How many governments of poor countries do you see banning smoking? Obsession with and exaggeration of hidden risks is a typical middle-class characteristic. The poor don’t have time to worry about passive smoking and global warming – they are too busy trying to survive and prosper. It is only when people have confidence that their material needs will be met that they start looking for other threats. And when they do that and decide that these other threats are problems of externalities or collective action (i.e. involve other people), they expect their governments to act to protect them. And so the cycle continues.

    There is no inevitability about it. Affluent people could take a rational view of their risks. It depends partly on their own intellectual powers (which will depend on the quality of their education at home and school), and partly on the information and analysis provided to them by the “professional second-hand dealers in ideas”. As intellectuals in the Hayekian sense (sorry), we need to promote a sensible valuation of risks, and sell the idea that liberal principles are in the broadest interests of society at large. The smoking issue is just a footsoldier in that battle.

    I suppose if anything I see freedom and prosperity (these vague, ill-defined words) as being intimately bound up with one another.

    Indeed. Or, as I put it way back when… “I agree with your connection of freedom and prosperity. And I agree that freedom is threatened whenever prosperity is threatened.”

    But if no prosperity, no modicum of leisure and literacy and technology, then no freedom to innovate and invent, and smoke.

    Perhaps. I am trying to think of an example where there has been so little prosperity that there was no modicum of leisure, literacy or technology. In reality, we tend to live in a world of more or less prosperity, not absolute prosperity or no prosperity. Even at the point that he stepped down from the trees and onto the plain, man had sufficient opportunity (leisure?) and incentive to innovate. Otherwise, how would we ever have evolved in the way we have? Literacy (or, first, the ability to communicate) and technology, being the products of innovation, cannot have been a necessary requirement for innovation, but let’s say that very quickly they became so. After that point, was there ever again a time when human society did not possess them to some degree?

    If we agree that prosperity is a question of degree rather than absolutes, and that there was therefore always some amount of leisure, literacy and technology, which meant that there was some possibility of innovation, can one maintain that lesser prosperity meant less innovation? Necessity, not opportunity, is the mother of invention, remember. If this were the case (that innovation were proportionate to prosperity), it would be hard to see why civilizations rise and fall and economies go through cycles. We should enjoy or suffer unending virtuous or vicious circles of growth or decline. It is the inclination of those who have had enough of decline or poverty to look for ways to improve their lot, and of those who have grown fat and indolent with prosperity to take their good fortune for granted, that causes the ebb and flow in the tide of human affairs.

    I cannot look at our world and find support for your view that prosperity leads to freedom. It was not the great economic success of the Soviet Bloc that led to the eventual rejection of the communist shackles. Was it prosperity or the lack of it that led to Estonia’s high regard for freedom? Did they become rich and then free, or did they become free and are now becoming rich? China did not get rich and then start allowing its citizens certain freedoms. It conceded the freedoms, and they started getting rich. Conversely, we have seen in Zimbabwe what happens to an economy when you infringe ever more on people’s freedoms. Mugabe’s oppression was not made necessary by a collapse of the economy. It was his oppression that caused the economy to collapse. There has certainly been a vicious circle, but it is clear where the initial fault lay. And it is clear that the first part of the solution is not somehow to fix the economy in the absence of changes in the treatment of its citizens, but to restore freedoms and the rule of law so that the economy can start to recover.

    Again, there is no inevitability about this. We do not have to be satisfied with our lot, just because we are as comfortable as mankind has ever been. We don’t have to get fat and lazy. No doubt, when Jefferson said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, he meant vigilance particularly against external aggressors, but he was also acutely aware of the threats from internal political, economic and societal decline, and from compromise with the principles of freedom that he and his contemporaries understood so much better than most of our politicians today. Any society compromising on these principles is risking a period of decline that may become a vicious circle. This is the circumstance that I think you have in mind when suggesting that cause and effect (freedom < -> prosperity) can be in both directions, and in those circumstances, I would agree. But the key is always freedom. To stop the rot in a vicious cycle, or to encourage the progress in a virtuous cycle, we must always look to restore, preserve or enhance political freedom – the mimimization of coercion within the rule of law.

    I don’t see any mainstream political parties standing for this nowadays (and I don’t just mean in Britain). It makes me very pessimistic about the future. It’s no good saying what you think you need to say to get elected, if what you said does not give you the mandate to make the changes needed. It’s not enough to be “not the Government”. That’s the Ted Heath approach. Being liked or found amusing doesn’t cut it, if you have to leave your liberal principles (if indeed those are your principles) at home to achieve that popularity. You have to take the philosophical fight to the country, explain why freedom and less government (and not just a relocation of powers from Westminster to local government) is good for people. I don’t hear that from Boris, or Dave, or most of the current cabal (I’ll make special exception for DD and JR, but they are outnumbered and out-spun). All I hear is that they will do roughly the same as the Government, but will manage it better. If I want managerialists, I will vote for NuLab.

    That’s why the argument that you shouldn’t undermine DC or you will end up with Gordo just doesn’t wash. I am not tribal. I am interested in the policies, not the party. I don’t care which of them I end up with if they are standing for similar interventionist principles with subtly different implementations. If anything, Gordo would be the more honest, and probably more capable, managerialist – you’d be getting exactly what it said on the tin. It is more important to have an opposition espousing and explaining liberal principles than for the Tories to win the next election on a mandate to nowhere. Unless they start selling these liberal principles, I will regard a defeat at the next election as the optimal outcome, and act accordingly.

  126. Trying to be too clever. By Üaut;bermenschen, I meant, of course, Übermenschen, or if that’s still too clever, Uebermenschen.

  127. You find other people’s thoughts, particularly those of intelligent people who have given the issue a great deal of consideration, an impediment to having one’s own thoughts?

    I had no interest at all in philosophy of any sort for until I was in my late twenties. I would occasionally pick up some book of philosophy, read for a few pages, and put it down rather baffled. Why were they thinking about these things? And why write so much about it? It was really only when I had my own idea, which grew out of my science education, that it suddenly all got very interesting, and I started cramming down as much economic and moral and political philosophy as I could manage, as if I had been starved of it all my life. Which, in a great many senses, I had been. But I was mostly reading to see if I could find my own idea somewhere in the history of philosophy – which is what I mostly read. I was at university at the time, and had the run of several libraries, which I used to the fullest extent. It was during that time that I first encountered Mises. And of course, a great many others.

    What is true of philosophy is also true of art. I was really only able to appreciate art to the extent that I could myself already draw and paint. I could only appreciate English and poetry to the extent that I’d written a little myself. If, for example, I know little about music, it is because I’ve hardly ever tried to make any myself, beyond humming a simple tune, or tapping a few piano keys.

    I never found my idea – F – in the the history of philosophy. But I did find out why I hadn’t found it. And the explanation lay in the gulf between the sciences and the humanities. I was attempting something that was regarded as illegitimate by both sides of this division. Scientists very often say that they study what is the case, not what ought to be the case, and when they do so they are referring to an objection by Hume that he did not see how one could start from an ‘is’ and arrive at an ‘ought’. In unwittingly crossing – or believing I had crossed – this closed border, I had become an illegal immigrant – perhaps even a prisoner of war -, speaking the language of science in the country of the humanities. After a while I realized that once that great fence, or front line, had been erected between science and the humanities, one was no more likely to find scientists in the humanities than one would find German soldiers wandering around behind British trenches in Flanders.

    Our discussion has been between, as it were, a 1918 English captain and a German soldier, who has, in one of Hindenburg’s offensives, somehow managed to walk through the entire British front line undetected, lugging one of the very latest light machine guns, deep behind the British front line. I have slept in hedges and ditches, and stolen apples and potatoes. You speak some German, and I speak halting English. I have been, as it were, arguing the Kaiser’s idealistic Hegelian cause, and you the common sense English cause of .Locke, and Mill, and Burke. We were bound to be talking at cross purposes from the moment I said, “Guten morgen, kamerad,” and you replied, “Hullo, old chap. Didn’t quite catch your drift.” Our cross-purposed discussion is the same dispute that we can both hear in the distant thunder of our cross-purposed armies. I had suspected that this would be the case. I had a similar problem with a French farmer a few miles back, except he barely understand I word I said.

    Yes, I know about Nietzsche. Eternal recurrence and all that. “I teach you the Übermensch. Man is something to be surpassed.” But did Nietzsche manage it? Nope. He was insane for the last 10 years of his life.

    Cold reason will triumph in the end. You’ll see. The Americans will never arrive in time. They are no good at war anyway, having fought only native Indians or each other. You think that I should surrender to you, but really it is you who should surrender to me. Tomorrow, I have no doubt that our newly-formed storm forces will finally catch up with me. Paris will soon be in our hands. Meanwhile, let me show you a photo of my liebe frau, Gretl. Here. Isn’t she pretty?

  128. For a real Nazi philosopher try Heiddigger and stop picking on Freddy, he was certainly to the right but hardly a fascist. Fred said that only ‘walking thoughts’ were of any use and that ‘sitting’ ones were useless. I don’t think he made any comment on those arrived at whilst tree climbing. His madness is sometimes validated by descriptions of him leaping onto tables and ranting and raging at senior academics. The problem I have with this is that such behaviour appears quite rational to me.

    I’m afraid that I’ve never read Heyek and have no intention of doing so at present, but there are bits of Das Kapital that might be of benefit to both of you (and I’m not exactly a fan of that Karl-baby, far too much beard for my liking, and the same goes for Freud … I did say ‘bits’)[And if ‘freedom’ is going to be considered in a social context it would probably be worth considering the psychologists as well as the philosophers]. The assumed link between prosperity and freedom would seem very iffy unless some level of egalitarian distribution is also assumed (and I don’t mean an absolute equality or anything like it by this). The French Revolution would seem to illustrate that wealth creates freedom, a middle class that had gained wealth but was denied political power decided to do something about it (and, as usual, were led by lawyers!).

    This whole debate does demonstrate the danger of letting natural scientists loose on the social sciences. What use is a formula that tells us the obvious? However, there is research that indicates that the analytical processes of the sciences and the liberal arts are nowhere near as apart as is often assumed.

    On the other hand a formula like that may appeal to McBroon, and there are believed to be cabinet posts available.

  129. This whole debate does demonstrate the danger of letting natural scientists loose on the social sciences. What use is a formula that tells us the obvious? (AP)

    I don’t think this debate has demonstrated anything like that at all. It’s principally been an inconclusive discussion between the humanities (ably represented by bgp) and science (represented by me). It’s been an encounter between subjectivity and objectivity. If bgp and I were to look up at the sky, he’d say it was blue with clouds in it, and I’d say that the blueness came from scattering of light fom dust in the atmosphere, and the clouds were condensed water vapour. Both are true. But they consider the sky in fundamentally different ways.

    It’s not even that I much disagree with Hayek. I have read the Road to Serfdom, and I think I took it to heart. I kept it, leastways. The fate of books I don’t much like is usually to be disposed of fairly rapidly. But I did not think that Hayek’s was a tremendously profound book.

    And a formula that tells us the obvious at least makes a promising start. It could be said that the laws of motion and of gravity also tell us the obvious – that a bullet fired from a rifle will fall to earth. It would be distressing if it said otherwise, because it would be contrary to our experience. But when these same laws of motion tell us that if the bullet has sufficent velocity, it will keep on going round and round the earth indefinitely, it tells us something that isn’t obvious, something that isn’t part of our everyday experience.

    For a real Nazi philosopher try Heiddigger

    Heidegger was infamously a Nazi supporter, rather than a Nazi philosopher. I have a book by him too somewhere maybe. I’ve never made head or tail of any of it. Nietzsche was at least readable and provocative. Heidegger is neither. Freddy wins on that count, at least. Both were probably equally barmy, however.

  130. It seems to me that you are repeating that greatest of twentieth-century mistakes – to imagine that something is good simply because it is original, or bad simply because it is old. (bgp)

    I hope I’m not doing that. I agree that ideas don’t go out of date. But the way they are presented does go out of date, and fairly rapidly. And it is regularly people who present them.

    I sometimes think that I have spent much of my life under the oppressive weight of Darwin, Marx, and Freud – to name the most prominent.

    Freud’s influence has mercifully declined considerably over my lifetime. And in recent decades, perhaps with the demise of the Soviet Union, so also has Marx’s more long-lasting influence. Darwin, however, remains as oppressively influential as ever – in the person of Richard Dawkins, if nothing else.

    All of them, oddly, claimed to be scientists, or had such claims made about them. Freud’s was a science of mind, Marx’s a science of society – hence ‘Scientific Socialism’. Darwin’s was a science of the natural world of plants and animals. None of them, in my view, were what I think of as scientists – Kepler, Newton, etc -. They were instead gurus of the various movements to which their names are invariably attached – Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism.

    All of them have been, at one time or other, set up as idols to be worshipped. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in science. Perhaps it happened a bit to Newton in his own day, but for the most part scientists only become minor celebrities, rather than idols to worship. And I think that this is because in science, ideas are readily separable from their authors. Indeed, the authors tend to entirely vanish. And this is because the laws of motion and gravity do not rest upon the authority of Newton, but upon a rationality that is independent of Newton. Newton is famous because of his rational equations, rather his equations famous because of his authority. As a result, we don’t have Newtonism, or Einsteinism.

    Indeed, if we have Darwinism, Marxism, and Freudianism, it suggests to me that their ideas were in some way inseparable from them, and therefore not entirely rational. Darwin, Freud, and Marx are all part of the packages which are peddled in their name.

    So it’s not so much that I object to ideas, but to the idolisation of the people who thought them, or who in some way managed to appropriate these ideas to themselves. I object to them as authority figures, and instinctively want to be rid of them. I do not, in some sense, need to know what Maoism or Trotskyism actually means to know that I will object to them. Give me anyone’s name, with ‘-ism’ appended to it, and I will be instantly agin it. Present their ideas, unadorned by their name, as some sort of rationality, and I might accept them.

    Hayek doesn’t seem to be one of these sorts of people. But he has underpinned another credo of which I instinctively disapprove – Thatcherism.

    Of all the isms that I have mentioned, I suppose the one whose downfall I long for the most is the pernicious cult of Darwinism. If anyone we have mentioned today deserves to be associated with Nazism, it is probably Darwin.

  131. Heiddigger’s wife was a party member, he taught in German universities throughout while other credible academics fled or suffered the consequences. There are a few interesting points in his work, but it also reeks of Teutonic Knight style pseudo-mysticism masquerading as philosophy. It’s no accident that the US post-modernists refer to him in an attempt to counter modernism. The French at least seem to be smarter than that.

    If by the ‘isms’ you mean those followers that cash in, then we concur. If you mean the written works themselves, then we are diametrically opposed. Our very thoughts are preconditioned by the work of Freud, Jung, Marx, Nietzsche, and Darwin, and the influence of these thinkers on society at large. It goes right the way through all of the arts and gave birth to social science. Don’t blame the instigators because lesser souls steal their names and elements of their work (how often have you heard a Marxist admit that Marx believed that eventually the state would wither away to be replaced by some rather fuzzy anarchy?) in an attempt to bolster their own failings and earn a living. Although there’s no ‘Einsteinism’ (both maths and physics being somewhat established sciences when he emerged), he is probably equally important in the formation of contemporary consciousness.

    Social Darwinism moves in a neo-fascist direction, but not the work on evolution itself. As I stated earlier, Kropotkin is very good on this. I’ve persuaded several natural scientists to read his work, and although they say they would state it differently (not surprising given over 100 years time gap) none disputed what he had to say.

  132. No doubt, when Jefferson said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”, he meant vigilance particularly against external aggressors, but he was also acutely aware of the threats from internal political, economic and societal decline, and from compromise with the principles of freedom that he and his contemporaries understood so much better than most of our politicians today. Any society compromising on these principles is risking a period of decline that may become a vicious circle. (bgp)

    Setting all theory aside, I entirely agree. If I’m not thinking very abstractly about F, as mostly I’m not, then I am often to be found at my local pub, sitting with a pint, smoking a cigarette, and gazing meditatively into space. This will become illegal next week, and it appalls and terrifies me.

    It is not merely that I personally will lose this rather meditational pleasure, but that at the same instant, a million like me also will. What is terrifying is that so few people are contesting this diminution of freedom, which has been brought in using political deception (breaking a manifesto pledge) and medical dishonesty (exaggerating the risks of passive smoking). What comes next? Or rather, what goes next?

    The smoking ban isn’t something that the British people have wanted. I don’t know of any anti-smoking demonstrations, for example. It is something that is being imposed by the government upon the people. No political party, apart from UKIP, opposes it. The whole relation of the people to the state, in a parliamentary democracy appears to have been turned upside down.

    The erosion of freedoms has also proceeded apace in other matters. Using the supposed threat of terrorism, any number of draconian laws I have been brought in. Somehow these weren’t needed when really were facing a considerable threat from the IRA, but are needed now against what appears to me to be a far lesser threat, despite a spectacular 9/11. In addition we have multiplying surveillance cameras, and our roads are increasingly cluttered with signs telling us how to drive our cars.

    All this has been done by our own government, not by the EU. And yet tonight I’ve just heard that the EU have approved a constitution that is one that is, to all intents and purposes, the same one as its electorates have rejected. It appears that their electorates are going to get this constitution whether they like it or not. Once again, it appears to be the politicians who are imposing their will upon the people.

    We appear to be moving towards a situation where instead of government being accountable to people, people are accountable to government. And it is all happening by stealth.

    I’m personally not particularly bothered by where central government resides. But I am deeply concerned that wherever it resides, democracy in any real sense seems to be simply evaporating.

    But I’m speaking subjectively and practically. None of this has much to do with F, which is a theoretical notion, and presently as abstract as theoretical physics. However, it may not always be.

  133. If you mean the written works themselves, then we are diametrically opposed. Our very thoughts are preconditioned by the work of Freud, Jung, Marx, Nietzsche, and Darwin, and the influence of these thinkers on society at large. (AP)

    ‘Preconditioned’ suggests that we cannot think for ourselves, but only within the categories such people have offered us. If we are ‘preconditioned’, how was it that they – Darwin, Marx, etc – were not, but were somehow able to come up with their own views. ‘Influenced’ would be a more accurate word. And we are not just influenced by such people, but by everyone we ever meet, and everything that happens in our lives.

    And the influence of the written works depends, in part, in the way that they are written. I had great difficulty reading Marx. It is written, I think, in some German or European style which seems clunkingly clumsy. By contrast, I have no difficulty reading Darwin, who writes an English that is immediately understandable 150 years later. But it seems that Marx regarded Darwin’s Origin as being written in a ‘clumsy English style’. It appears that Marx wanted Darwin’s imprimatur for Capital, but Darwin never read it. But I suspect that Darwin took one look at it, and ground to a halt after reading a couple of lines.

    I think if Darwin has informed so much Ango-Saxon thinking, it is because they can understand him. And Darwin wrote extremely well, and extremely subtly. As does his modern disciple, Richard Dawkins. If Marx never quite enjoyed the same success, it was because Anglo-Saxons don’t really understand him. Or Heidegger. Or Hegel. Or Kant.

  134. I meant ‘preconditioned’ in the way we perceive, in the same way that the Enlightenment changed and modified European perception, not in the sense of free will. Call it ‘influence’ if you like, but it’s a weak attempt to describe the reality. These writers are part of the specifics of our circumstance, they are part of our consciousness, they help frame it. In a similar way to Shakespeare being embedded in our language, these intellectual giants are embedded in modern consciousness, and all the gibbering of the post-modernist comedians can’t diminish them. If not, we might as well surrender to Islam, it’s not that different to pre-Enlightenment Christianity. (OK, granted, it was a progression that probably started with the Renaissance).

    The Angles and Saxons in Germany seem to have no problem in understanding, neither do a load of UK Marxists. Obviously you do, but I think I said previously that I have little time for the dialectic of history, Marx is however an essential tool for social analysis, even if society has become more complex and we need to modify him somewhat. Kant is crystal clear, his simplicity of expression for complex ideas is one of the reasons that I do like him. Heiddigger isn’t that difficult once the mysticism is seen for what it is, but probably isn’t worth the effort. Hegel? Ummmm … so, so … I have to admit that I only ever scanned him, but he does have his fans. Freddy is great fun, but does make logical errors.

    Marx is most entertaining when he’s fiery, this is said to have been when his gout was playing him up. I agree over the idolisation issue, all worthwhile ideas should be subjected to critique. But Idlex, you almost sound racist, or is it just a ‘little England’ mentality?

    I tend to pass books on, other than art books and antique books with interesting prints. Hence the lack of reference sometimes.

    With you all the way over this stealth treaty and the denial of a referendum though.

  135. I meant ‘preconditioned’ in the way we perceive, in the same way that the Enlightenment changed and modified European perception, not in the sense of free will. Call it ‘influence’ if you like, but it’s a weak attempt to describe the reality. These writers are part of the specifics of our circumstance, they are part of our consciousness, they help frame it. In a similar way to Shakespeare being embedded in our language, these intellectual giants are embedded in modern consciousness, and all the gibbering of the post-modernist comedians can’t diminish them. If not, we might as well surrender to Islam, it’s not that different to pre-Enlightenment Christianity. (OK, granted, it was a progression that probably started with the Renaissance).

    The Angles and Saxons in Germany seem to have no problem in understanding, neither do a load of UK Marxists. Obviously you do, but I think I said previously that I have little time for the dialectic of history, Marx is however an essential tool for social analysis, even if society has become more complex and we need to modify him somewhat. Kant is crystal clear, his simplicity of expression for complex ideas is one of the reasons that I do like him. Heiddigger isn’t that difficult once the mysticism is seen for what it is, but probably isn’t worth the effort. Hegel? Ummmm … so, so … I have to admit that I only ever scanned him, but he does have his fans. Freddy is great fun, but does make logical errors.

    Marx is most entertaining when he’s fiery, this is said to have been when his gout was playing him up. I agree over the idolisation issue, all worthwhile ideas should be subjected to critique. But Idlex, you almost sound racist, or is it just a ‘little England’ mentality?

    I tend to pass books on, other than art books and antique books with interesting prints. Hence the lack of reference sometimes.

    With you all the way over this stealth treaty and the denial of a referendum though.

  136. Sorry about that, it led me to believe that it had failed to post the comment, hence the double post.

  137. But Idlex, you almost sound racist, or is it just a ‘little England’ mentality?

    No. The people I admire are Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and so on. They came from all over Europe. So I can hardly be a ‘little Englander’.

  138. Incidentally, Hayek was, I believe Austrian, and fled the Nazis to Britain and the USA. Yet The Road to Serfdom is a very easily readable book. I don’t remember having any trouble at all understanding what he was talking about. So it can’t be the fact that Hayek was Austrian that was problematical.

    How come it was easy to read Hayek, but not Marx? Part of the answer, I suspect (but I’m not sure), is that Hayek wrote in English, while Marx wrote in German. So I suspect that I read Hayek in his original English, and Marx in translation. Maybe that’s where what seems to me the clunkiness of Marx comes from.

    I used to be rather intoxicated by Argentinian fiction writer Jorges Luis Borges. But I only ever read him in English translations. These days, when I can read Spanish a bit, I now have a copy of one of his books in its original Spanish. The prose is extremely dense, and too hard for me, but I can see that the English translations I read attempted to stay true to that density. The prose was dense because Borges would compress a whole book into a short story, and the translations I had read fairly accurately reflected this.

  139. How come it was easy to read Hayek, but not Marx?

    I’ll reply to the rest of this when I get time, but there’s such an obvious answer to this that I just had to get it off, though AP won’t like it. Because Marx was talking bollocks and Hayek wasn’t, is why. I’ll explain why I think that later, but let me offer a little hint – any takers for the labour theory of value?

  140. any takers for the labour theory of value?

    Not me. But I’d have to use F to show why.

    Marx was a classical economic thinker. Adam Smith gives expression to the labour theory of value. So does Marx. But the neoclassical economic theorists did away with it, around about the time that Marx was writing. Personally, I don’t think too much of their theory of value either.

  141. Adam Smith’s expression of what is called the Labour Theory of Value is to be found in the early chapters of the Wealth of Nations.

    If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually costs twice the labour to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for or be worth two deer.

    Obvious, innit? By ‘value’ is meant what we nowadays call ‘price’. It’s the ‘Labour Theory of Price’, and it says that the price of any good is determined by the amount of labour it takes to make it.

    Quite how we measure the amount of labour isn’t stated, but it is quite plausibly measured in hours, or in physical units of work – Joules.

    Either way, Marx came up with an interesting consequence of this theory, which – in my view – is good enough to merit his inclusion among those economists who weren’t talking bollocks.

    It’s called the Theory of Surplus Value. If you ask any Marxist to explain this theory, they usually blanch and find an excuse to leave. Perhaps AP would like to explain the Theory of Surplus Value?

  142. Sorry … No. It was over 30 years ago when I read him and I was never a ‘Marxist’ (they like me even less than Tories and NuLab do!). It’s social analysis that I said he was invaluable for, not economic. We all use his tools for analysing society, even if some of us don’t realise it. I’ll leave economic theory to those that revel in such things. There was me trying to recall ‘A Critique of Hegel’s Critique of Rights’ (the first Marx I ever did read) and you go and bring this up.

    A great many serious writers are ‘dense’ to read. After tackling Bourdieu I commented, “It’s alright reading it, but you wouldn’t want to do it twice.” Perhaps academics need a course in literary style.

  143. The Theory of Surplus Value was an explanation of the origin of profit, and one that grows out of the Labour Theory of Value.

    If the owner of a large factory employs 100 men to work 16 hours a day to make 100 goods each day, at what price do they sell? According to the Labour Theory of Value, they should each sell at a price of 16 man-hours.

    But, said Marx, by the same token the price of labour must also be the production costs of labour, and those are whatever it takes to keep a man alive and working for another day – a loaf of bread, a bucket of water, and a floor to sleep on. If it takes one man-hour per day to produce these minimum needs, then each worker gets paid 1 man-hour per day for his labour.

    And, Marx went on to say, this meant that the factory owner would receive 16 man-hours for every good he sold, but only pay out 1 man-hour per day to each worker. So he would enjoy a surplus of 15 man-hours of day for each good he sold. This is what Marx called surplus value, and what we call profit. And since he sells 100 goods per day, that amounts to 1500 man-hours a day that he trousers from his factory to spend as he wishes.

    The factory owner can then use his large income to build a huge mansion and fill it with works of art, and live a life of luxury attended by butlers and chefs and flunkeys – while his workers go home to their hovels to fall asleep on straw beds, exhauted after their 16 hour day. And, indeed, this was pretty much the condition of the working classes in England beneath their capitalist factory owners.

    And so Marx called for the workers to rise up and overthrow their masters, and end the exploitative capitalist system, and usher in a society in which wealth was shared equally, rather than enjoyed by only a few.

    Which seems perfectly reasonable.

  144. Bit different now idlex, now instead of working a 16 hour day, the worker could just get pregnant, get a free house, work a 16 hour week and claim tax credits.

  145. idlex (3:01PM),

    These exchanges just race ahead, don’t they? I’m leaving behind lots of interesting earlier comments in dealing with the latest posts first, and hope to come back to the earlier ones later (if you see what I mean). Probably won’t manage it. Again, the speed of communications and the scarcity of my resources is preventing sufficient attention to detail.

    any takers for the labour theory of value?

    Not me. But I’d have to use F to show why.

    Go on then. That would make F a lot more interesting.

    Marx was a classical economic thinker. Adam Smith gives expression to the labour theory of value. So does Marx.

    Indeed, although I’m not sure that makes Marx a classical economist. Marx refined Adam Smith’s biggest mistake, and made it the central plank in his scheme. He also discarded much of the rest of what Smith had got right. I’d say that makes him a student and partial inheritor of the classical tradition, but I’m not sure it makes him a classical economist, any more than Freud was a physiologist because he was influenced by Brücke.

    Incidentally, you might want to have a look at Brücke. I have to admit, I had never heard of him, when I came across him as I was looking for an analogy for the relationship between Smith and Marx. But he seems to have been a scientist of great influence, and not just on Freud. He published in 1874 “a book setting out the view that all living organisms, including the human one, are essentially energy-systems to which, no less than to inanimate objects, the principle of the conservation of energy applies”. Sound Familiar? And just to make this even more circular, Brücke founded an Austrian school of physiology at Vienna University, where Carl Menger founded an Austrian school of economics, of which Mises and Hayek were adherents. The influence of both schools extended well beyond the boundaries of Austria. Menger published his Principles of Economics, the book that (along with works by Jevons and Walras) laid the foundations of the Marginalist Revolution that overthrew classical economics, in 1871, only three years before Brücke’s book above, though the latter was the senior. I can find no sign that they influenced each other, but there seems to have been something in the water in Vienna at the time.

    But the neoclassical economic theorists did away with it, around about the time that Marx was writing. Personally, I don’t think too much of their theory of value either.

    I take it that by “neoclassical” you mean the schools that followed the discovery by Menger, Jevons and Walras of the marginal approach to economics (and not just the Marshallian school and its descendants, to which the term is also often applied). Taking that broader sense of “neoclassical”, I’m not sure it’s fair to talk of “their theory of value” as though they had only one theory between them. Yes, it tended to be (but was not always) based on marginal utility, but there is quite a big difference between the Austrians’ emphasis on [alert: dangerous word ahead] subjective utility, and the attempts of most of the other schools to treat utility as a quantifiable, mathematical entity. Could you clarify what you mean by “their theory of value”, and what theory of value you believe to be correct?

    As you know, I’m a “subjective utility” man myself – something’s value to you is whatever you think its utility is to you at the time, measured subjectively relative to the utility to you at the time of other goods (e.g. goods whose purchae you have to forsake in order to purchase the good in question, and goods you have to surrender in order to be able to purchase the good in question). Money, of course, usually acts as an intermediary good in this comparison, so that we end up defining the value of things in terms of the money we have to surrender and the money-value of alternative goods. But in reality, money also has a value to us only in terms of its utility (i.e. in money’s case, what you can buy with it, and complications like how well you expect it to hold its value), which can only be measured relative to the utility of other goods.

    The only generalisation necessary or valid beyond that is the marginal bit, which I take to be ordinal, not cardinal, and not capable of interpersonal or intertemporal comparison (i.e. any marginal scale of utility applies only to an individual at a point in time, and not comparably to several individuals, or to the same individual across time). Given those provisos, the classic illustration of a subjective, ordinal, marginal scale of utility (as per Rothbard, though I think he borrowed it from someone else) would be, taking eggs as an example, in order of descending utility, and without implying any ratio of value by the ranking (other than that items higher in the list are worth more than items lower in the list):

    4 eggs
    3 eggs
    2 eggs
    1 egg
    2nd egg
    3rd egg
    4th egg

    So we can say that 4 eggs are worth more than 3 eggs for both you and me, but we can’t say for sure that 4 eggs are worth more to me than 3 eggs are worth to you (because we can’t make interpersonal comparisons), and we can’t say for sure that 4 eggs now are worth more to me than 3 eggs later (because we can’t make intertemporal comparisons).

    This isn’t terribly controversial (or apparently enlightening) stuff, but it’s amazing how much one can deduce from a limited set of basic principles like this one. How do you go about defining value?

  146. I’m sorry that my post-chemo brain can’t maintain enough focus for this level of intellectual debate bgp, but there was certainly something in the water or in the air in Vienna at that time, consider the revolution in visual art and music that also took place. However, if we want a precursor to Freud’s psychology wouldn’t it be more profitable to look towards James?

    Whilst it’s certainly the case that Marx regarded economics as the single most important defining factor, it might be worth remembering that he planned to write two other works following ‘Das Kapital’ in which he intended to consider the influences of such things as ideology and culture on social structures. This is something else that Marxists never seem to mention.

  147. PS: I may be wrong, but I don’t think Marx or Engles (or Lenin or Trotsky for that matter) ever called for ‘wealth to be shared equally’, they did call for a much more equitable distribution. They weren’t Levellers (and although not a period I’ve ever studied, I think the Levellers only talked in terms of land not wealth).

  148. These exchanges just race ahead, don’t they?

    My fault entirely.

    I’m not sure that makes Marx a classical economist.

    He’s usually classed as that. Though obviously there were some differences from the others – such as being a revolutionary.

    Brücke founded an Austrian school of physiology at Vienna University, where Carl Menger founded an Austrian school of economics, of which Mises and Hayek were adherents. The influence of both schools extended well beyond the boundaries of Austria. Menger published his Principles of Economics, the book that (along with works by Jevons and Walras) laid the foundations of the Marginalist Revolution that overthrew classical economics, in 1871

    I’ve not heard of Brucke. But I certainly know of Menger, Jevons, and Walras.

    I take it that by “neoclassical” you mean the schools that followed the discovery by Menger, Jevons and Walras of the marginal approach to economics (and not just the Marshallian school and its descendants, to which the term is also often applied).

    Yes, that’s what I mean. I have the impression, from memory, that various different people started thinking along the same lines at the same time, and their ideas coalesced into neoclassical economic theory, of whom Marshall was a later exponent. In writing of Marx, I had been thinking of adding that, while Marx drew his own conclusions – of the necessity of revolution, etc. – anyone else who had seen his Theory of Surplus Value might have instead begun to wonder whether there might not be something wrong with the Labour Theory of Value, and gone back to question that. That certainly seems to be what Menger, Jevons, Walras, and co. seem to have been doing.

    but there is quite a big difference between the Austrians’ emphasis on [alert: dangerous word ahead] subjective utility, and the attempts of most of the other schools to treat utility as a quantifiable, mathematical entity.

    I’m well aware of the tendency to treat utility as quantifiable.But I think that they all regarded utility as subjective. Utility, as its name suggests, is derived from Utilitarianism, and utility was happiness, or pleasure, or well-being. And these are subjective terms. I’ve generally understood marginal utility in the sense that, given a box of chocolates, the first chocolate is very pleasurable, and the second slightly less so, and so on, until by the 18th chocolate, you really don’t want another, and the 19th fills you with mild revulsion.

    Anyway, the main point was that the neoclassical theorists started to think about the use-value of goods as determining the price of goods, and not their cost of production. If people wanted something a lot, then its price would tend to rise. If they ceased to want it, its price would fall. So the price of anything would tend to float around, moving up and down.

    Now, as I came at it all, clutching F, it seemed to me that what was being said made perfect sense if it was applied to things that were intended to be subjectively enjoyable, like chocolates, or music, or art, indeed a great many consumer goods. But it didn’t apply to various other goods. For example, I get no pleasure from filling up the tank of my car with petrol. It seemed to me that there was a set of goods of one sort, and a set of goods of the other. The first I saw as luxuries, and the others as necessities.

  149. I should now explain how I saw value – that is, use-value – using F. The last time I was kicking F around, it was to create an interdependent society of people with a division of labour, collecting needed food items from the vertices of a hexagon, and bringing them to a central ‘camp’. They operated at a higher F, 0.41, than the people going round the hexagon on their own. If you recall, they could only carry two items at a time, one in each hand.

    Now, let’s suppose that one of them thinks of making a bag in which to carry these items. In his free time, he experiments with weaving together a bag using the supple stems of plants, and after a fair bit of experimenting he manages to make a bag which will hold 4 items, twice what he can carry with his bare hands. Since most of the time when he’s busy, he is just going and collecting items to bring back to the central camp, two at a time, and he’s now able to to collect 4 at a time, it means he can do all his collecting in half the time it took before. So if F = 0.4, then he used to be busy 0.6 of the time, but now, using his bag, he’s now busy only 0.3 of the time, so F has risen to 1 – 0.3, or 0.7. So he has quite a lot more free time than the rest of society, who, without bags, remain with F=0.4. However, after 5 days of using his bag, it bursts one day, and his F returns to 0.4. Now, as I saw it, the cost of the bag was the time it took for him to forego his leisure to weave it together, and value to him of using the bag was the amount of leisure time it provided him in return. And the amount of leisure it provided was the increase in F – his measure of leisuredness – he enjoyed while using it. And his since his increase in F was 0.7 – 0.4, or 0.3, then the amount of leisure the bag provided him was 0.3 x 5, or 1.5 days. If it took him a day to make the bag, he’d lose 1 day of leisure making it, but gain 1.5 days in using it over its lifetime, a net gain in leisure time of 0.5 days.

    Now this isn’t a subjective valuation. It’s a measurable amount of time. He takes no pleasure in either making or using the bag. Its utility to him simply lies in the amount of time it saves him doing his everyday chores of collecting things and bringing them back to camp. And since cost and value are both measured in time, they can be directly compared with each other.

    Now, to race on, let us suppose that, after a while, his companions notice that he seems to be living a rather more leisurely life than them. They would like to live more leisured lives too. Let’s suppose he offers to make them bags as well, but only if they pay for them by doing some work for him. At what price should a bag exchange? It’s cost or its value? If it is exchanged at its cost, he gains one day of labour for each day of bagmaking work he does, and gains nothing from the transaction, while the buyer gains 0.5 days. Conversely, if he sells a bag at its value, the opposite happens, and he gains 0.5 days from each transaction, and the buyer gains nothing. But if the price is set somewhere between cost and value, then both buyer and seller gain from the transaction. So the price will always fall somewhere between value and cost. And he will always make a profit when he sells a bag. The buyer will also make a profit, but not monetarily. And instead of using bags himself, he will become the bagmaker for his entire society, and spend most of his time making bags for the use of his companions, and as a result all will live more leisured lives.

    Now, to return to neoclassical economic theory, the above valuation only applies to useful, leisure-providing bags. It doesn’t apply to leisure-using amusements and luxuries. If, for example, someone makes a chess set, the value of this chess set lies in the pleasure it provides its users. With chess sets, footballs, music, and the like, we have to adopt something like the neoclassical subjective approach to valuation.

    So really I’m saying that there are two sorts of goods. One sort – the bag being the example – generates leisure, and the other sort disposes of leisure. And these two sorts of goods can’t be valued in the same way. The first sort, useful tools, can have their value objectively measured. The second sort, which are amusements or luxuries, are enjoyed for themselves, and are valued subjectively.

    My criticism of neoclassical economics is that it’s fine as far as goes, in making subjective valuations. But it misses out half the economic problem. Worse, it misses out the important half. Neoclassical economics has no notion of how we come by leisure, but only how we dispose of it. It takes leisure as granted, when it’s not. So it’s half an economic theory. And half an economic theory is as good as no economic theory at all. Yes, they didn’t make the mistake that Smith and Marx made. Instead they made an entirely new mistake.

  150. To summarise:

    1) Human beings do not live lives of perfect leisure. All they have is F, which can range between 0 and 1. It is only in their F leisure time that they can do as they wish rather than as they must. All the good things in life are only done in F. So humans are always trying to increase F to the maximum, through cooperation, moral codes, and time-saving technology.

    2) I define the cost of a tool like a bag as the amount of leisure time that is used in making it, and the use-value of such a tool as the amount of leisure time that it provides. For a tool to be actually useful in providing leisure, its value has to be higher than its cost.

    This is a new definition of use-value. But it is not one that negates subjective neoclassical notions of value, as applied to non-tools – i.e. amusements and pastimes and luxuries.

    3) The price of a tool will fall somewhere between its cost and its value, because only in this range will both buyer and seller gain from the transaction.

    4) Because the price of a tool will generally always be higher than its cost, its seller will always make a profit.

    And this is a new explanation of profit, quite different from Marx’s.

    5) Neoclassical subjective valuations only apply to luxuries and amusements that dispose of leisure time. But the real economic problem is that of how to come by the leisure time that is then neoclassically disposed of.

    Sorry if I’ve crammed too much in there. These almost certainly aren’t ideas with which you are familiar. So feel free to take your time about replying, if you wish.

  151. So what about Gordon Brown’s ‘Theory of Surplus Earnings’?

    Our dynamic capitalist economy allows me to sell my labour at way above the level of basic subsistence, even allowing me, horror of horror, to sacrafice luxuries I can afford in order to save money. According to Brown’s Theory of Surplus Earnings, money is gathered at an increasing rate in the form of tax from those that have surplus earnings, and are likely to save those surplus earnings for the future, and redistributed to people who qualify (i.e. pass a ‘means’ test). My suplus earnings are far better off in the hands of the feckless as they are more likely to spend it in the consumer economy, especially on alcohol, tobacco and gambling, thus both increasing taxation and keeping alive the boast of ‘record economic growth’. By removing surplus earnings from those people that have exhibited responsible behaviour, and handing it directly to those people who expect everyone else to financially support their children, Brown ensures that all surplus earnings are spent as quickly as they are acquired and ensures a greater dependency among the population on his own economic and social policies.

    Personally I’m sick to the back teeth of this tax credit lark. Every job I have I end up paying taxes so that he can just hand them straight over to someone who spends them on designer trainers and expensive games consoles for little Jonnie. Most of these people aren’t even ‘single’ Mother’s either, they just declare that they are.

  152. Putting it another way, bgp, what F does is to chop an economy in half, and say that whatever goods produce leisure time belong on one side, and whatever goods consume leisure time belong on the other side. The first are what we call ‘needs’, and the latter ‘wants’.

    Neoclassical economic theory provides a fairly plausible account of how people dispose of their leisure, eating chocolates and playing chess, fulfilling wants. But it doesn’t tell us how we came by that leisure in the first place, nor how much of it we have.

    I suspect that I’m rather bundling Hayek in with what I think of as the neoclassical theorists. But, having read the Road to Serfdom, I had come to regard Hayek as a political philosopher rather than an economic philosopher. Although one has to wonder where the borders between these disciplines – including moral and legal philosophy – actually lie. In some senses, as soon as you do any economics, you are automatically doing politics and ethics and law as well, because they are all bound up together. I sometimes wonder why the humanities were carved up this way into these petty kingdoms. Divide and rule?

  153. While bgp is plotting a riposte, it would seem that I am free to expound further upon F.

    Neoclassical economics only sees half the picture. Both it and its classical precursore regard humans as fundamentally at leisure – a leisure that is forgone in creating ‘wealth’ in the form of pleasant, enjoyable consumer goods. It is these goods which are regarded as embodying wealth. So the wealth of any society is regarded as being measured by how many goods are created, and how hard people are working manufacturing these goods. Given this notion of ‘wealth’, the political goals of society are accordingly those of “full employment in wealth creation”.

    However, the primary and real measure of the success of an economy is F – how much leisure people have. After all, the secondary neoclassical consumer-good generating ‘ecoonomy’ can only operate to the extent that there is the leisure time that can be foregone in work to make the toys and amusements and luxuries that it regards as ‘wealth’. For since F measures the amount of leisure time any society has, F measures the ability of the economy to produce luxuries and amusements. If no F, then no luxuries.

    Really, economists ought to be measuring F, rather than GDP or anything else, to find how well an economy is doing. A chancellor of the exchequer ought to report the current average value of F, and announce his proposals to increase F, so making life easier for everyone. A society is successful to the extent that its people are free and leisured, and unsuccessful to the degree that they busy and hard-working.

    There are really two entirely different sets of economic activities operating side by side, two different economies. One generates leisure, measured by F, and the other uses this leisure to produce toys and amusements and luxuries and holidays and games. The primary leisure-generating economy should be the subject of the most serious and rigorous concern. The secondary luxury-generating economy should be unserious and playful. In their leisure time people should be allowed to do whatever they wish, except those things that reduce F.

    Thie division of an economy into a serious leisure-generating primary economy, and a playful amusement-generating secondary neoclassical economy is very much analogous to the separation of a household’s fresh water supply from its waste water disposal. A supply of clean fresh water is the primary requisite, and what is done thereafter with this water – drinking, cooking, washing, cleaning, and the thousand other uses of water – are secondary and unimportant next to the primary requirement of a supply of fresh water upon which they depend.

    I’m rather playfully enjoying this exposition.

  154. So it’s all about creating more ‘commodity fetishism’ as Karl-baby would have put it, though I think ‘life-style marketing’ is the term more often used today? As those who constantly ‘upgrade’ find, the capital goods do not bring them contentment, there’s always something else to desire. Interesting that simpler societies often seem to have more contented and less neurotic people. So is F a sign of how effed-up it all is?

  155. So is F a sign of how effed-up it all is? (AP)

    No. Quite the converse.

    F measures the leisure time which can be disposed of in making pleasurable consumer goods. But there isn’t (or shouldn’t be) any necessity for these to be made. People should make them if they want them, and not make them if they don’t.

    But both classical and neoclassical economic theory could be said to fetishize commodities, however, because they regard (and measure) wealth in largely material terms, rather than as leisure, as I propose.

  156. Really, economists ought to be measuring F, rather than GDP or anything else, to find how well an economy is doing.

    Efficiency in supply of food and water would indeed be a virtue. But it’s not a very good measure of how well an economy is doing. Compare two theoretical economies with equal aggregate F: one (A) where very little in the way of goods and services is available for consumption during people’s “leisure” (1-F) time; and one (B) where these goods and services are available in abundance. A is like a Soviet economy, where production is focused on what people need (or at least what the head honcho decides that people need), and very little consideration is given to what people want. B is like a market economy, where consideration is given to all those things that people want, including their needs. They have equal Fs. But they are not equally good economies to live in. You can define aggregate F as a measure of economic performance if you like, but it is not a measure that tells us much that is worth knowing about economies that have progressed beyond subsistence.

    Where F is relevant is in very undeveloped economies. It matters, for instance, that many people in Africa have to walk for hours each day to fetch water. In this situation, you are right that F is a significant measure of economic welfare and potential. I don’t feel that I need F in order to understand that a significant priority for people in this situation would be to get a water-purification and distribution system installed. But if it helps you, that’s fine.

    There is an interesting ramification of the two hypothetical economies above. In A, where few “leisure” (i.e. non-survival) goods and services are produced, there will be little employment outside the production of those goods required to satisfy people’s needs. We will have to spread the labour across this production, otherwise either some people will be slogging so that others can do nothing (if we redistribute) or those who do nothing will not survive (if we don’t redistribute) because they won’t have the means to pay for the goods they need to survive. Everyone, regardless of aptitude, will have to be trained in one of the limited set of skills needed to produce food and water, and employed in one of the limited number of tasks involved in their production. I have assumed that F is equal for both, but of course B will have more opportunities to reduce F through specialization.

    The vibrancy of the “leisure” market is a key factor in the maximization of F, through division of labour into more categories than just those needed to survive, and also through providing the incentive to want to increase F (the attraction of leisure time is significantly reduced if there are few goods and services of which one can avail oneself during that time). Once that is conceded, the production of “leisure” goods and services becomes a part of the “essential” economy, because the wages earnt from the production of those goods and services are necessary to the survival of those that produce them. And if the production of those goods and services is part of the “essential” economy, so is their consumption, because there will be no value to their production without demand for their consumption, and if there is no value, people will not be able to earn their living producing them. It turns out, surprise, surprise, that everything that is produced and consumed is part of the “essential” economy. In which case, F encompasses not just the production of food and water, but all goods and services. Your arbitrary dividing line is a logical absurdity.

    This is only one of many reasons why your approach is wrong, but it will do for now.

  157. Compare two theoretical economies with equal aggregate F: one (A) where very little in the way of goods and services is available for consumption during people’s “leisure” (1-F) time; and one (B) where these goods and services are available in abundance… They have equal Fs. But they are not equally good economies to live in. (bgp)

    Minor point: leisure is F, rather than 1-F. And those (presumably luxury consumer) good and services will only be as abundant as there people prepared to make and trade them using F. If F is small, then there’ll be very few of them.

    I’d only agree that one is better than the other if that is what people want. I don’t see any general law that says that people will always forego leisure to acquire as many consumer goods as possible. Some people want a life with more leisure and consequently a smaller choice of consumer goods, others the converse.

    In modern Western market economies, people largely have little choice over their working hours as employees, and so can’t actually decide for themselves how they’d like to allocate their time. This has resulted in growing complaints about the so-called ‘work-life balance’ being skewed against life. Usually they want more ‘life’ or leisure, although sometimes they want less.

    Once that is conceded, the production of “leisure” goods and services becomes a part of the “essential” economy, because the wages earnt from the production of those goods and services are necessary to the survival of those that produce them.

    Point not conceded. A case in point is prostitution, which may offer the only means of survival in societies where F is highly unequally distributed, and some people have large incomes, and others none at all. Indeed this seems to be a general problem of Western market economies, that people are being obliged to work to provide luxury services of this kind because of such inequalities. I’d call this a Hayekian form of coercion.

    I should remark here that it seems to me that F should be as far as possible equally distributed – the above case being one reason why. But I see no reason why the same should apply to luxuries and amusements.

    And I don’t think you’ve nullified my distinction between two separate economies any more than you’ve nullified my distinction between clean and waste water. Yes, they all too often get mixed up with each other, but that’s what we call the kind of bad hygiene which diminishes public health.

  158. Oh good. They’ve turned Comments back on. For a few blissful hours, I thought we could leave this behind.

    Let’s try again. Let’s say that I make my living selling sweets. Sweets are not an essential of life. So this activity falls into the “leisure” part of the economy, right? But I don’t grow my own food and fetch my own water. The selling of sweets is my way of surviving. If I don’t sell sweets, I starve. So this activity falls into the “essential” part of the economy, right? And if the sale of sweets is essential to my survival, the purchase of those sweets is also essential to my survival. So the activities that others carry out in order to be able to buy my sweets are essential to my survival, regardless of whether those activities themselves provide essential goods. So now we have people working in the “leisure” part of the economy to earn money to buy “leisure” goods from other people – all “leisure” transactions, and yet still essential to survival….

    Under a system of division of labour, “leisure” goods are as essential to survival as “essential” goods, because the people who supply the “leisure” goods use some of the proceeds in order to purchase “essential” goods. And even that part of the proceeds that goes to the purchase of “leisure” goods is essential, because the people who produce those “leisure” goods also need to sell their produce in order to be able to buy the essentials of life. And so on, and so on, ad infinitum. This is both necessary and desirable. Your division of the economy into two sectors – “essential” and “leisure” – is logically unsustainable.

    And that’s not even getting into the tricky question of defining which goods and services are “essential” and which are not.

  159. Just to reinforce the point, I forgot to trace things in the other direction. A lot of the money I earn from selling sweets goes not directly to buying food and water, but to the purchase of more sweets to sell. This is still essential, because without sweets to sell, I can’t sell sweets, and if I can’t sell sweets, I can’t buy the essentials of life. So the sweet-producer’s products, although “leisure” products are also essential to my survival, and to his, because if he doesn’t sell them, he can’t buy the essentials of life either. So now the sweets leaving the factory are “essential” goods, as well as “leisure” goods, because neither of us can survive without them. Then there are the sweet-producer’s employees and his suppliers, both of capital goods (e.g. sweet-making machinery) and of consumables (e.g. sugar and colouring). All these people are doing non-essential jobs producing non-essential goods, and yet the jobs and goods are absolutely essential to their survival.

    Then there’s my wife, who takes some of the money left over from selling sweets, having deducted the cost of buying more sweets and buying the essentials of life, and buys a handbag, even though she already has several. Definitely non-essential. But the handbag-maker doesn’t think so. Without customers like my wife, he’s out of a job and starving. But so long as people buy his handbags, he can not only buy the necessary food and drink, but he can occasionally also buy sweets. Not essential, but it keeps me in food and drink.

    You can reduce this down to only essential goods. But you will be in Communist Russia, or modern North Korea. As soon as you allow for non-essential goods, you have to allow for the producers of those non-essential goods selling their products in order to be able to survive. To deny this is the most ridiculous case of self-deception I have ever seen.

  160. Jumping back to an interesting point in the thread, to which I had started drafting a reply, before matters stormed ahead again:

    AP (27/6 10:25AM),

    Post-chemo or just tired and/or busy, I don’t think any of us can keep up this pace, fascinating as it is. But could you expand just a little on the visual arts and music point? Are you thinking of Brahms and Klimt? Or were there others? Otto Wagner? I’m not well up on the history of the arts, and I’m not at all convinced that artistic, scientific and philosophical blossomings are related, but parallels are interesting.

    However, if we want a precursor to Freud’s psychology wouldn’t it be more profitable to look towards James?

    Exactly. James may, for all I know, have been a more significant influence on Freud’s thinking. But Freud studied under Brücke and borrowed and extended an idea of his as the basis of the development of ideas on the human mind that bore little relation to Brücke’s work. My point was that we wouldn’t describe Freud as a physiologist for this reason, and we shouldn’t describe Marx as a classical economist because he studied Smith and borrowed and extended one of his ideas. If James was Freud’s real precursor (I don’t know much about James, so I couldn’t comment), I would suggest that the equivalent role for Marx was played by Auguste Comte, not Adam Smith. Your point about Marx’s plans to write about “the influences of such things as ideology and culture on social structures” reinforces this connection with the founder of sociology. This is not to deny the significant influence of others (e.g. Hegel, Owen, and, yes, Smith) in Marx’s confused thinking.

    I may be wrong, but I don’t think Marx or Engles (or Lenin or Trotsky for that matter) ever called for ‘wealth to be shared equally’, they did call for a much more equitable distribution. (27/6 10:33AM)

    I can’t find anything to contradict you, though I haven’t done a thorough search. But this usefully drags the thread back to one of the important points that got left behind – your suggestion (25/6 10:12AM) that “the link between freedom and prosperity would seem very iffy unless some level of egalitarian distribution is also assumed”. How does one define equitability, and how does one know what is the right level of redistribution? How will you know when everyone is equal enough? Do you think everyone will agree what that level is? It’s a question to which “majority opinion” is a very bad answer, given the ease with which the majority can exploit the minority, and their historical inclination to do so (as noted by Jefferson, Adams and Franklin), whether you view that as the bourgeoisie exploiting the workers, the indolent exploiting the industrious, or whatever.

    This brings us to the question of distributive justice. And here I have to admit that I have barely made a dent in Rawls and none at all in Nozick. Perhaps when I get a chance to go through A Theory of Justice (which sits patiently outside my bathroom, but usually yields to more entertaining fare), the scales will fall from my eyes, and I will understand both why and how one would redistribute for egalitarian purposes. But at the moment, I’m afraid I don’t see any sense in it. It seems like a problem to which only woolly solutions have been proposed because they are answers to a badly-framed question. We could go into the theoretical arguments for different forms of distributive justice, but for me, it is enough to observe that the poor in mature capitalist economies are richer than the rich in mature communist economies. It is clear, both theoretically and empirically, that free markets are the most effective means to coordinate social cooperation in the division of labour to allocate scarce resources to the satisfaction of people’s wants. (And that includes their needs, idlex. Please don’t imagine that that debate is useful here.) I don’t deny that inequalities tend to increase in free markets, but so long as the poor are better off under free markets than under collectivist economies, I don’t care if the rich are even richer. On this basis, it seems to me that free markets are preferable from a welfare as well as an efficiency point-of-view.

    Redistribution is a way of making free markets less free, efficient and effective. It encourages short-termism and discourages prudence. It encourages consumption and discourages saving. It reduces the reward for hard-work and innovation, and increases the reward for indolence. It distorts valuations and incentives, encouraging the over-production of some (typically low-quality, disposable) goods and under-production of other (typically higher-quality, more long-lasting) goods.

    Rather than redistribution, I go for Winston’s safety net, on a moral basis, and leave it at that. Of course, I still have to make a judgment then about what level of provision should be made for the needy, but at least I am trying to judge that on the basis of cost-of-living, rather than the more elusive notion of fairness or equity.

    And as a tempter to further debate, I argue that:

    (a) the best way to provide that safety net, to minimise distortions to the market and bureaucratic inefficiency and cruelty, is through a Basic Income, and

    (b) having provided that safety net through a Basic Income, further redistribution through progressive taxation is unnecessary and undesirable, and should be replaced with flat (and, as far as possible, harmonised) taxation rates.

  161. I was thinking more in terms of Schonberg, Berg et al in music. Certainly Klimt in art, but also the decorative arts of the Secessionists, Weiner Keramik, Wiener Werkstatte and furniture designs by Josef Hoffmann and others. Although most of this is slightly later, its roots are in the late C19th. I would agree that there isn’t always a cross-over relationship, but it often seems to be present, consider the influence of the Russian avant guarde on the early revolution and Mayakovski’s suicide when Stalin came to power leading to the voluntary exile of the foremost Soviet artists, or the links between the German expressionists, the theatre of Brecht, Hindemith’s music, Hartfield’s photo-montages, and the German Communist Party. There were fairly close ties between the social-realist authors and radical politics in the USA at the beginning of C20th.

    I’m not that much in disagreement with your taxation economics, and if I say very much I suspect that we’ll be at cross purposes, but I think there is cause to widen wealth so that we’re more akin to Germany and Scandinavia [it seems obscene to me that in the modern world 10% should own 90% of the wealth and, as I love pointing out, exactly the same figures as for those who controlled wealth in the Soviet Union. In Germany/Scandinavia a third of the population own 90% of the wealth. In the UK the same 10% own 80% of the land if we remove the land average sized houses are built on from the calculation. Plato regarded the kind of distribution we have as producing an unstable society]. Isn’t this part of what Thatcher attempted to do with wider share ownership and sale of council houses, even if her scheme failed because people cashed shares in for the quick profit? Hence I don’t go with a simple flat rate and give some support to progressive taxes, but not quite in the way NuLab see it. I don’t want to increase the tax burden on most of the middle and lower middle classes, or on skilled workers. I agree over the minimum wage, I was in Australia when it was introduced there and, despite the dire warnings from the Liberal Party right-wing, it made no significant difference. I have no time for the argument that there are companies that will be forced out of business, if companies can’t pay a decent living wage they deserve to be forced out of business, the vacuum will soon be filled by more efficient ones that can. I have the same attitude to the importation of cheap labour to the detriment of our own lumpen proletariat and working class. We’d soon have heard the screams if the highly skilled and computer literate Hong Kong Chinese had been given entry and had been allowed to reduce middle class wages and conditions.

  162. Let’s say that I make my living selling sweets. Sweets are not an essential of life. So this activity falls into the “leisure” part of the economy, right? But I don’t grow my own food and fetch my own water. The selling of sweets is my way of surviving. If I don’t sell sweets, I starve. So this activity falls into the “essential” part of the economy, right? …Your division of the economy into two sectors – “essential” and “leisure” – is logically unsustainable. (bgp)

    I perfectly understood your point the first time you made it.

    But when you say start off with “Let’s say…” you beg a lot of questions. The first of which is, “Why are you selling sweets to earn a living?” And the first thing I’d tell you is that if you’re doing that, then you’re living in a highly inegalitarian economic system which has obliged you to do it. To achieve equality in the simple theoretical economies I’ve begun to describe, it’s possible to show that if prices are set such that P2 = C2 – ( P1 – C1 ) . L2/L1, where C, P, L are costs prices and lifetimes of tools 1 and 2 in the ‘essential economy’, and the same relation applies to tools 3, 4, 5, etc, then F comes out exactly equal for everybody. There’s a whole range of solutions for this relation, but just one of them is the case where Pn = Cn, which is price set at cost. In a properly functioning competitive market, with different producers selling the same good, prices will tend to be driven down towards costs. So another thing I can tell about you as sweetseller is that you’re not working in a properly functioning competitive market. You’ve maybe got some monopolists in your economy who are pushing prices up towards value, and maybe higher. If the monopoly problem in your badly-functioning economy could be fixed, you wouldn’t have to sell sweets for a living. But you could still make and sell sweets if you wanted to it. You just wouldn’t have to.

    I’m not going to explain how I know this, but it’s something that drops out of slowly building up an understanding of how economic systems work in the way that I have been, building up step by step from first principles.

    So I’d still say that the ‘essential’ and ‘leisure’ sectors of the economy can be kept separate, in the sense of not interfering with each other. Yes, of course there would be trade between the two sectors, but it doesn’t have to be one in which people have to sell sweets or sex to earn a living, but because they freely choose to do that.

    And that’s not even getting into the tricky question of defining which goods and services are “essential” and which are not.

    That’s quite easy actually. Goods are ‘essential’ goods if they increase F, and ‘leisure’ goods if they don’t.

    But the deeper issue is really one of how to look at economic systems. And it seems to me that there are essentially two approaches. One of those is the line that I have adopted, whereby you build up from simple situations, gradually making things more complex, until you have something that is a good approximation of the real world, and then you make decisions about how to change it based on the knowledge. This is the theoretical physics approach. And as I have approached economics, it’s as a branch of theoretical physics.

    The other approach is to start with the whole real shebang, sweetsellers and all, and get to learn empirically how it all behaves, as prices move around, etc, so that you build up a nice set of empirically derived equations derived from the raw data. I think this is called econometrics.

    In reality, both are needed, just like with theoretical physics. But, in the end, we’ll only understand how economies really work when have both a good theoretical and empirical knowledge of how they work, and be able with confidence to correct problems that arise in them.

    But I suspect that you’re not even going to agree about this.

  163. P.S. If the thread stopped and then restarted around lunchtime, it’s entirely thanks to Melissa, after I asked her to restart it, which she graciously did. These threads usually get switched off after a while, but I thought there was still a bit more mileage in this very fascinating one.

    I have the feeling that my own contributions will probably wind down. It has indeed been very fast moving at times. If nothing else, it’s had me dig out my old copy of the Road to Serfdom, and re-read bits of it, and rediscover it to be as readable as I remembered it to be.

  164. idlex,

    you beg a lot of questions. The first of which is, “Why are you selling sweets to earn a living?” And the first thing I’d tell you is that if you’re doing that, then you’re living in a highly inegalitarian economic system which has obliged you to do it.

    Yes, of course there would be trade between the two sectors, but it doesn’t have to be one in which people have to sell sweets or sex to earn a living, but because they freely choose to do that.

    Oh, I see. So if I’m selling sweets in your version of my world, it’s because I have to. But if people are selling sweets in your world, it’s their choice. I get it, comrade. No need to explain further. In fact, please don’t.

  165. AP,

    The extension of the period to the early twentieth-century is not unreasonable. But if developments in culture, science and philosophy were related geographically, I’d find your examples quite worrying. From my perspective (I’d be interested to know if you feel the same, as someone who obviously knows a lot more than me about the modern arts), the music of Schoenberg and Berg, though undoubtedly innovative, is a wrong turn. Music began to lose its humanity, and became more of a pure intellectual exercise at that point. I realise that it was always intellectual, but it was more than that – art is the harnessing of those skills to something that creates a subjective response, and I’m not sure “yuk!” or “eh?” are the highest of the responses that one could provoke. There seems to me, from an uninformed perspective, a parallel between classical music and modern visual art, and their paths from vaguely incomprehensible but at least innovative at the turn of the last century, to neither interesting nor comprehensible at the turn of this century. Or, to put it another way, from my perspective, the arts disappeared (with some exceptions, obviously) up their own fundament during the twentieth century. I think one can track similar patterns in many other areas of thought during that period, but I had other developments than Austrian economics in mind. Hopefully, they are no more connected than being products of fertile conditions for intellectual experimentation.

    On the subject of taxation and wealth, one of the interesting things – as your example of the Soviet Union, or the modern example of ten years of Labour government demonstrate – is that direct efforts to rebalance wealth-distribution often have little, no or even sometimes a perverse effect. I agree with you that a world in which the top 10% own 90% of the wealth seems wrong, but from a slightly different perspective. If those 10% (or their ancestors) genuinely earned their wealth through merit and prudence in an unbiased system, then I wouldn’t have a moral problem with it. I don’t have a problem with inequity or huge wealth, however extreme, per se. But I doubt that abilities are so unequally divided that this would be the result of an unbiased system (I would be less certain about prudence, which seems to be one of the defining factors that differentiates rich from poor, often over many generations). So I look at that unequal distribution as prima facie evidence that the rules that govern our prospects are biased. And when I look at those rules, I think I find many examples of bias. My response is not to think that that bias is inevitable and so redistribute to take account of it, but to look to improve the rules to eliminate the bias. If, having done so, there is still huge inequity between rich and poor, I will feel that such inequity is nevertheless just.

    I should be clear that, by “biased”, I mean “different rules for different people or circumstances”. I don’t mean “failing to correct misfortune or disadvantage”.

    Personal taxation and welfare is a classic – perhaps the most important – example of a biased system. What matters to household income and incentives is not the nominal rate of personal taxation, but the effective rate – the balance left after deducting all taxes and adding all welfare payments. Income depends on the net effective rate (household net income after taxes and benefits relative to household earned income before tax), and incentives depend on the marginal effective rate (how much an extra pound of income will increase the household’s disposable income). On the basis of these effective rates of personal taxation, Basic Income and Flat Tax (BIFT) provides a more progressive tax and welfare system, than does the current approach of progressive taxation and means-tested welfare (PTMTW).

    It is well-known (I hope) that our current system of means-tested welfare produces very high levels of marginal effective rates of personal taxation on low-earners – often over 90%. For every extra pound that you earn, the loss of benefits means that the net effect is only to keep a few pennies. Who would look for (additional) work under those conditions? No wonder we have a growing underclass. It is generosity of welfare-provision, combined with budgetary necessity and calvinist distaste for supporting the undeserving, which produces this result. Perversely, it is the attempts to target support at those in need that places an ever-stronger stranglehold on many who might otherwise be able to work their way out of poverty. There is no way of avoiding this effect with a PTMTW system. The more generous you try to be, not only does taxation have to rise to cover the cost (with Laffer-curve consequences to tax-revenue adding to the burden), but also so does either the withdrawal rate (which further increases the marginal effective rate of taxation and therefore the disincentive to work), or the number of people dragged into means-testing, and therefore captured by these disincentives. It’s like golf (or at least, how I remember golf) – the harder you try to hit the ball, the worse it goes. Needless to say, Gordon has been trying to hit the ball out of the park.

    BIFT, through eliminating means-tested withdrawal of benefits, greatly reduces the marginal effective rate of taxation on low earners. Let’s say that individual (not household) BI were £4,500 and the FT rate were 43%. (Notice that, unlike most flat-taxers, I do not assume that a flat tax is necessarily a low tax, though I would like it to be as low as is consistent with providing those things that the state ought to provide. This is a starter for ten assuming no efficiencies had been made in government budgets, in order to compare like with like.) The net and marginal effective rates on high-earners would be pretty similar to what they are today. On £100,000, they would be 38.5% net and 43% marginal under a BIFT, compared to around 35.5% net and 41% marginal under the current system (it’s not possible to be precise about the current system because of the number of rules that depend on circumstance, but one consistent factor is that these calculations are including employee’s NI as well as income tax). But for someone on £5,000 (e.g. a part-timer), they would be -47% net (negative = receive more from than pay to the state) and 43% marginal under a BIFT, compared to -33% net and over 90% marginal under the current system. I know under which system someone is more likely to try to work a few more hours to increase their take-home. And under which system people are punished less if they are not able to increase those hours.

    I could provide acres of even-more-tedious examples to demonstrate the point. But the generality is, though it may seem counter-intuitive, that a BIFT can be designed to be both fairer and more progressive than the current PTMTW system, or indeed any other system you are likely to be able to devise that includes progressive taxation and benefits that are not universal. And yet it provides only a safety-net, and not an income-related redistribution. A policy that is liberal in both the classical and the progressive senses. Strange, but true.

    I have the same attitude to the importation of cheap labour to the detriment of our own lumpen proletariat and working class.

    There is fault on two sides (government and “proletariat”) of the triangle in this (the cheap labour, for whom I have only admiration, being the third side). The “proletariat” often do not help themselves, but the primary responsibility must lie with government, partly because they are in a position to change things, and partly because it is their policies that make the “proletariat” less inclined or able to help themselves. One of the benefits of a BI, I believe, is that it could be linked to citizenship, so automatic to all existing nationals, but made conditional on payment of taxes for a sustained period of time by those coming to the country. That would tackle the usually-false accusations that “they” are stealing “our” benefits. And it would give nationals a head-start in competition for jobs; they start (say) £4,500 better-off than the foreigners, so ought to be able to out-compete them for jobs if they are equally suitable. Only the really useless should be unable to compete for low-paid jobs under those circumstances.

  166. In my world, it is possible for people to be obliged to sell sweets, or to freely choose to sell sweets – much in the same way that men can either be conscripted into armies, or volunteer to join them.

    Enough!

  167. Whilst there will always be an intellectual component, art must surely strike straight to the emotions without the need for analytical mediation. I tend to divide the modern movement into art I like and art I find interesting (there should probably be a third category, art I reject as irrelevant, but this is my subjective view). Schoenberg (if you prefer the English spelling) is art I find interesting. Experimenters often break the ground for others to follow. Stockhausen is significant because of his revolutionary influence, and although I listen to him every now and then, I don’t think I could really say I like him, but he is interesting. In a similar way I’m never quite sure that ‘like’ is an appropriate word for Albert Ayler or Sun Ra in jazz, but I wouldn’t be without them.

    I’m no great fan of contemporary conceptualism and have no intention of defending it, though I have close friends who most certainly would. To me it’s at best wry amusement, we can laugh at Damien Hirst’s automatic masturbating BMW, but it can’t possibly have the shock value of Duchamp. Duchamp changed the way we look at art, though I would cite Van Gough’s ‘Chair’ and ‘Boots’ as also significant in this direction, as were the painters who smashed the idyllic myth and portrayed rural labour as it really was. In the modern age art ceased to be merely bourgeois entertainment and became confrontational (or some of it did). This is obvious if we look to the designs of the Bauhaus, even though Mies tried to keep the Bauhaus out of politics (it influenced most modern design and particularly typeface and graphic style that can still be seen in advertising). Consider how boring and predictable the daubs beloved of the Nazis and Stalinists were. Ultimately contemporary conceptualism is safe despite all its posturing, it would hardly appeal to the likes of Saatchi were it not so. Someone like Beuys on the other hand, is most certainly not ‘safe’. Walking through a gallery of his fat is not pleasant, but then it’s not intended to be. I didn’t find walking round a concentration camp pleasant, nor going into the underground trenches at Hellfire Corner, I find Beuys a bit like that, I don’t want to go back, but I’m glad I’ve been.

    I think it’s worth remembering that much art and music that’s now considered mainstream was revolutionary and caused outrage when first performed. I doubt if anyone with any taste would seriously object to Stravinsky or the Ballet Russe today. Whilst art is certainly multi-faceted and virtually impossible to define, I regard this shock value as an essential part of it. It drags us kicking and screaming into a new reality, other works serve to confirm what we are and what we know (and it does many other thing besides). Art needs to be experienced in the flesh, I though Picasso was good from illustrations, when I spent some time with his work I quickly grew to love him and rate him as the greatest since the Renaissance (but again my subjective view, though I could certainly argue the case). I could never understand the fuss over Rothko until I stood surrounded by those immense canvasses and felt the impact. It would seem that modernism simply ran out of steam and the post-modernist influenced contemporary conceptualists are all we’re left with for the present. I can’t stand Gilbert and George, I find them glib, glossy, and fatuous. I was saying this to a friend who works at the Tate, he is a keen fan of conceptualism, before I could finish he cut in and said, “Of course not, they’re gay fascists.” He may be right. I’m not that keen on Glass’s music, but I recognise that he’s important and sometimes give him an ear, I’ve even enjoyed him at times, I think that’s a matter of mood coinciding.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of location per se, it’s social milieu that creates the cross-fertilisation. Vienesse society must have been fairly small, if they didn’t know each other they’d have known people in common. In 1930s Germany the artists, led by Piscator, would take a state opera house for a season of radical productions. The only one I know of that was actually a communist was Eisler, the rest were fellow travellers, but I think you should remember the social conditions pertaining at the time for the majority before you reject this out of hand. As Gross said, “Better a canvass than a workers’ cottage”, when a bullet fired in a riot penetrated a classic work. When there’s no other vehicle for social change and conditions are bad with no chance of improvement, we shouldn’t be surprised if people adopt the extermes of revolution or fascism.

    You’re starting to convince me somewhat over the taxation issue, I’ve never been really at ease with the NuLab approach. I do have a problem in that neither has appeared to work on previous occasions, but I’m afraid I can’t offer any other solution. Such economic debates aren’t really my forte, I prefer to be advised; although not someone I quote very often (unless as a piece of shock rhetoric), I quite like Bakunin when he was asked about the role of experts: “If I need a new pair of boots I ask around and find out who the best bootmaker in the area is. I let that man explain to me about quality of leather, stitching, the best soles and heels and such like, but I don’t let him decide what style of boots I wear.” I agree with you completely over the incentive issue, if we wish to break this dependency culture it seems the only way to go about it to me. Apart from the percentage ownership already mentioned, I don’t really have a problem with wealth itself. I think there are concerns where wealth and business combine to allow undue influence and power, as exemplified by the likes of Gates and Murdoch, but that problem is probably best resolved in another way entirely.

    No dispute whatsoever over immigrant labour, I’ve used similar arguments to the local lads here when they’ve been expressing resentment … ‘Don’t blame the people who come, were we they we’d do the same. Blame the government that’s allowed it to happen in this way.’

  168. And you’ve enlightened me on the art front. Sadly, I don’t think I have it in me to appreciate all this properly (at least, not yet). The best examples to me are Picasso and Prokofiev. If you’ve seen the classical perfection of Picasso’s childhood paintings in the museum in Barcelona, or heard the classical perfection of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, you know these guys could produce perfection on the old-fashioned model if they wanted to, but they didn’t want to. Clearly, they had a genius that went beyond the conventional, and beyond what people like me can understand. Because, when I stand in front of most of Picasso’s art or listen to most of Prokofiev’s music, it does nothing for me. I take that as a deficiency in me, not them. Not a deficiency that I’m very worried about, though – each to their own in culture, I reckon, even if one’s own is pretty low-brow or old-fashioned. And whilst acknowledging that there is probably stuff going on in modern art that I simply can’t see, I wonder if there is a wider problem with accessibility and elitism? In the sense of intellectual inaccessibility, not physical inaccessibility. Art and music from earlier periods was often also considered dangerous and revolutionary and was only appreciated initially by the elites. But the innovations would gradually enter the mainstream over time. I’m not sure it’s possible to say that about modern art and music – particularly music. I think you need to appreciate this stuff in a completely different way, and I’m not sure most people can or want to appreciate the arts in that way. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong or invalid about elitism. To the extent that it’s elitism of quality or innovation, rather than of snobbery, quite the contrary. But it’s probably not healthy that the elite and the popular are two separate streams, rather than one being the vanguard for the other.

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