Tuesday, 31 March 2009

LIBERTARIAN SUS: Missing the Point

Susan Ryder discovers that never have so many so often missed the point . . .

susanryder When I was a member of Toastmasters International, I could never understand how others had difficulty in finding topics for their speeches. It was the most common gripe. Not for the first time, I found myself marching to a different beat in that I had precisely the opposite problem: numerous options from which to choose only one.

Nothing has changed in the interim. When it comes to penning this weekly post, I usually have a few ideas floating around. Occasionally though, they’re all discarded for something completely different by the time I sit down to work.

And so it is today.

I’d been toying with a piece on advertising – painful television ads in particular – but the lovely Bernard Darnton beat me to it, or at least acknowledged it in last week’s terrific post, “NOT PJ: Wheel of Misfortune.” (If you missed it, I highly recommend it - after this!).

And lately I seem to have done nothing but run into Che Guevara. Not literally, of course – that would be silly – and not only that damn image from 1960 either, but repeated mention of the odious communist in books, newspapers and magazines. As such, I felt a rant coming on, but not today, Josephine. The ads and Che will keep.

Yesterday’s Newstalk ZB programmes had callers consumed with the notion of One Council to Rule Them All in Auckland. Most appeared to be against the plan, preferring to retain the status quo, but all were vehement as to their respective opinions.

Nobody proffered the idea of, God forgive me, a third way. A real alternative. Nobody thought of questioning state control altogether via the abolition of councils with subsequent services being conducted by private enterprise. To weigh up the pros and cons of one big council versus several regional councils is like discussing the pros and cons of Stalinism and Maoism.

The truth is that both are disastrous. It is not a question of "which" council is better. It's whether the state is better at delivering services than private enterprise. And that question was answered, definitively, when the Soviet Union fell over and didn’t get up again. Next!

A bit earlier, ZB breakfast host Mike Hosking was singing the praises of paper shopping bags in light of Nick Smith’s touted 5c tax on plastic bags. “Groceries look good in brown paper bags!” he cried. Well, the man has a point. Heaven forbid that my groceries don’t ‘look good.’ Sports reporter Tony Johnson, announcing a preference for reusable bags, went even further suggesting a 10c tax on paper bags and an outright ban on plastic bags, citing that “Ireland doesn’t allow plastic bags at supermarkets and we shouldn’t either!!” So there.

But hang on a minute. Tony can’t have been paying much attention at high school. He’s forgotten that back then the Sandalista parents of today’s Greenies waged war against the paper bag for its notorious tree-chopping crimes, which went on to play a part in the subsequent growth of … plastics. Holy renewable forests, Taxman! There’s just no pleasing tree-huggers!

Of course Mike, Nick and Tony could all just mind their own business and leave others to do the same, but that would be too simple. Next!

Smoking and Smacking. The banning of a) smoking in privately-owned commercial premises and b) smacking one’s children, quickly developed into arguments over the issues of a) second-hand smoke for patrons and staff alike, and b) smacking or not smacking one’s children as a means of appropriate discipline.

Wrong again and wrong again. The issue; the only issue; is and always was one of state interference. It’s the same with arguments regarding the teaching of creationism in schools, the location of a new sports venue or the ‘merits’ of various forms of taxation.

Privatise education and let individual institutions dictate their own curricula. Remove the government from sport and allow private investors to construct their own facilities. And “fair taxation” is an oxymoron – not that you’ll find that particular example in high school English classes.

The point of today’s Gospel is the question of why we seem to so often miss it.

* * Susan Ryder writes every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *


  1. Well no, surely the justification for state interference in smoking is that there is an externality. But whether there is or not is a question of science. So surely the science is at least relevant to the debate.

  2. Indeed my pet hate while listening to talkback has to be the moronic attitude of most callers that accept the status quo and then proceed to discuss the advantages and disadvantages on whatever the subject is. Never once will they stop and question why government gets involved in the issue in the first place. It is a difficult point to make Susan and I am afraid your piece doesn't to it well either.

  3. TOM: "Well no, surely the justification for state interference in smoking is that there is an externality."

    Well, no. The issue was only allowed to develop into arguments over so called "second-hand smoke" in bars because the fundamental issue was ignored, i.e., : "Whose bar is it?"

    DINTHER: If I may say so, I think you're missing the point. ;^)

    Susie isn't demonstrating why govt shouldn't get involved in these things (there's only so much you can say in one column); all she's pointing out is that most people assume that point before they start.

    Perigo and Peikoff make the same point, if you want to see if they do better:
    "Somewhere in his prodigious output Leonard Peikoff tells a hypothetical story that is highly instructive. From memory, it goes like this: A group of men sit around and discuss whether it would be moral to rob a bank.

    "The discussion rapidly degenerates into competing suggestions as to which bank might be the most practical to rob—which offers the most loot, the most lax security, the quickest escape route, etc.. The issue of whether they should or should not rob a bank becomes an issue of “Which bank are we talking about?” No one speaks up to say, “Wait a minute! We shouldn’t even be having this discussion. Robbing any bank would be wrong! It would represent the taking of other people’s property, without their permission, by force—force initiated by us.

    "Initiating force is always wrong, if human life is our standard of right and wrong.” To say such a thing would require an ability to derive abstract principles from concrete life experiences and repair to those principles in evaluating possible future actions. It would require the identification of the same distinguishing characteristic in all the proposed robberies—initiated force—and their integration into the concept “wrong,” with a few narrower integrations along the way. Alas, people generally just don’t think that way any more. They don’t think in principles; they don’t integrate—the point of Peikoff’s story.

  4. I get the point.

  5. "Well no, surely the justification for state interference in smoking is that there is an externality"

    There is only an externality because the state chooses to subsidise health services for smokers. Gets a bit circular, really.

  6. Thanks, people. Thanks, too, PC for your response. It was correct.

    Tom: Your comment has been answered (ie the issue of property rights), but you've given me an idea for another piece. Thanks! :)

    Dinther: It is, after all, only a column of 600 words - not 600 sentences, paragraphs or pages. It was just a short commentary on how people appear to miss the heart/point/core - call it what you like - of every issue time & time again.

    But as for your last comment that questioning govt involvement in our lives, etc is a "difficult point to make", I totally disagree. It's dead easy ... because everything the state runs, it runs badly!

    You've just got to keep making that point ... ;)

  7. There is no justification for state interference at all, unless force or fraud has been initiated. Who do you exist for? Yourself or the state? It really is that simple.

    Brings me to one of my many favourite parts in Altas Shrugged. From memory when Mr Mowen is talking to Owen Kellog. Mr Mowen saying he cannot understand why everyone is moving to Colorado, as the government is lazy, and the worst governemnent anywhere. 'It doesn't do anything for the people, it only has police and law courts.'


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