“Shall we kill them in their beds?”–or, Transitions to Freedom: Good & Bad
A post from the archives offering advice for any putative Party X wanting to roll back the state.
Two bakers are talking politics. "How do you roll back the state?" asks the first. "One roll at a time," answers the second. A poor joke, but good advice. If you're serious about rolling back the state, then you set your compass in the direction of more freedom and less coercion, and you start hacking a path in that direction through the overgrown thickets of the overbearing state one hard-fought step after another.
You might start by preparing 'transitional policies' - policies that roll back the state and reduce coercion one machete stroke at at a time. Writing in The Intellectual Activist (July 1995), Robert Tracinski gives the necessary principle for formulating all such policies:
In judging a measure [advises Tracinski], one cannot hold it responsible for all aspects of a mixed economy - only for those aspects it changes. These changes can be evaluated by a straightforward application of the principle of individual rights: Does the reform remove some aspect of government control or does it add more control?... It is not a compromise to advocate reduced government control in one sphere even if controls in other spheres are left standing. It is a compromise, on the other hand, if one seeks to purchase increased freedom in one area at the price of increased control in another.
Ayn Rand explains the error of compromise:
When a man has ascertained that one alternative is good and the other is evil, he has no justification for choosing a mixture. There can be no justification for choosing any part of that which one knows to be evil.
Clear enough then: Start with what you find, and design the means to work step by step towards your goal, without ever purchasing increased freedom at the expensed of increased coercion. This is what is meant by the phrase ‘ratchet for freedom.’ A principled opposition -- call them 'Party X' -- would promote such policies. Policies that implement more white, with no new black.
An intelligent opposition party committed to working for more freedom and less government would design such policies to be picked up and passed around.
And in order for them to be picked up and passed around (and to be worth passing around) the policy should pass The Test of the Three Ps: it should be Practical, Principled, and arse-grabbingly Provocative. Provocative enough to be noticed; Practical enough to be work; Principled enough to move the game in the right direction.
The principle with each policy must be clear and unequivocal: More freedom with no new coercion.
Below are some examples of some policies that pass the test, but first, here's four proposals that fail:
- “Shall we kill them in their beds?” How about this: presently, a strong case can be made for the proposal to kill the entire front bench of Government in their beds, along with the Leaders of all Opposition Parties and all the various Human Wrongs Commissars. Practical, and easily done (although I'd expect difficulties coordinating the overabundance of volunteers.) Certainly provocative – and strongly based on the principle of self-defence. A proposal I’m sure we could all live with, so to speak. But as Tracinscki says, we activists must beware of purchasing freedom in one sphere at the expense of increased controls in another - the subsequent police crackdown on the assassins would undoubtedly remove all the freedoms gained by such a move, and for that reason it should be shunned -- and I say that with obvious sadness.
- Flat Tax: Here’s another example of this same error. A “low flat tax” would reduce taxes for some, true, but this reduction would be purchased at the expense of increased sacrifice by those whose present tax rates are below the chosen flat rate. That means it’s a new coercion. Not good. Not good at all. Far preferable is the Libertarianz transitional proposal (and Green policy) to offer a threshold below which no tax at all is paid, along with the slow and gradual increase in the level of this threshold.
- School Vouchers: The idea of school vouchers is popular, but so too is living at someone else’s expense. Vouchers do purchase wider choice, it’s true, but only at the expense of either bringing private schools even more under the Ministry’s boot (as a once relatively free early childhood sector now understands), or of throwing the taxpayer’s money away on bullshit ( Remember the Wananga debacle?). So school vouchers fail the test. Best just to give the schools back and be done with it.
- Cap & Trade & Fishing Quotas: For some reason these two are still fashionable with people who fancy themselves as free-marketeers (at least, that’s what it says on their lapel pins). But it doesn't take much examination to realise both measures purchase the very minimum of freedom, if at all (compared to the other measures designed to “fix” the alleged problems these are designed to meet), and do so at the expense of increased bureaucracy and the effective nationalisation of industry and of fish stocks respectively – and in the case of ‘cap and trade’ sets a finite limit on industrial production. Even carbon taxes would be better than this. Tax credits even better.
So those are some failures. By contrast, here’s two measures that do pass our test:
- A Conscientious Objection Tax Policy would increase freedom and, far from requiring more controls and more regulation, would actively promote and engender their removal.
Here's how it could work: The Conscientious Objection Tax Policy should allow an individual to opt out of paying for and using the government’s die-while-you-wait Health system, its factory schools, and its featherbedded welfare – to conscientiously object to the theft required to pay for these multiple disasters, to agree to make his own arrangements for these (thank you very much), and in return to pay only 10% income tax!
What a deal.
At a stroke the objector is better off (and with no new government controls introduced).
Further, without the figleaf by which statists pretend big governments are there to “help” taxpayers, the advocates for taxing the hell out of you and I would be in the position of having to state clearly they are in favour of naked theft.
And like all good policies, the Conscientious Objection Tax Policy would have a flow-on effect, kick-starting an explosion of freedom in the currently stagnant Health, Education and Welfare pools—because how else are these dire disasters going to attract custom if they don’t wake their ideas up?
- Here’s another intelligent transitional measure, the Transitional Drugs Policy proposed by my colleague Dr Richard Goode. Why not make drug law both more rational and more free by legalising all drugs less harmful to health than tobacco and alcohol? Who could object, right? Even Jim Anderton and Jacqui Dean don’t want to ban alcohol. Yet. (Although Jacqui wasn't too sure about water). According to Britain’s widely respected Lancet journal of medicine, under this standard we could immediately legalise for recreational use (in decreasing order of harm): Buprenoprhine, Cannabis, Solvents, LSD, Methylphenidate, Anabolic steroids, GHB, Ecstacy, Alkyl Nitrites, Khat, and di-hydrogen monoxide. On what rational basis could anybody object? More freedom, less government, safer drugs, less money going into gang leaders’ pockets – and the apostles of moral panic challenged to explain the rational basis of their War on Drugs. Everybody except Jim Anderton and Jacqui Dean kicks a goal.
There you have it. Two measures that will advance freedom without introducing any new coercion.
What other ideas can you come up with?