Tuesday, 21 February 2012

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR'S: A Book Worth Buying

imageLibz leader Dr Richard McGrath returns with fire in his belly, his regular column, and a book you just have to buy…

Nanny State has had it good recently, what with the censorship of “disgusting” images of Piri Weepu bottle feeding his infant daughter; the blanking out of “horrific” footage of signage advertising Coca-Cola and fried chicken; and the hysterically defensive reaction following revelations fewer people have been out cycling, and more of them are suffering injury, since cycle helmets (i.e., knob hats) were made compulsory. 

Thank goodness for people like James Bartholomew, who documents the far-reaching and almost unerringly negative consequences of state interference in our lives. Along with commentator Lindsay Mitchell, I had the pleasure of dining with James in Wellington a few weeks back during his brief visit conducting research for a new book he is writing. His pet topic is the welfare state in all its forms, and to prepare for James' visit I ordered a copy of his chronicle of Britain's decline from a once great nation to the 'sick man of Europe', entitled The Welfare State We're In.

It was a great, if sobering read.

Published in 2004, the volume traces the origins of the welfare state to the time of Henry VIII and his seizure of monasteries previously functioning as charity hospitals and emergency welfare providers. Bartholomew reveals the increasingly coercive nature of the State in funding and providing health care, unemployment and disability compensation, education, housing and social support.

Unfortunately, as is plainly evident to anyone who cares to look, in each and every area in which the government has intervened - albeit often with compassion and a desire to work side by side with private providers and charities - the result has been the crowding out of the voluntary sector, and an increase in death and misery for the intended beneficiaries.

In other worlds, state welfare is not welfare.

Neither is state education education. After decades of state-funded 'education' in the UK and more than a hundred years of compulsory education, one in four adult Britons is functionally illiterate (sound familiar?). Yet before the advent of government welfare and state education, about 85% of industrial workers in the UK were already members of friendly societies providing welfare and support for members and their families. Since that time, the working class has been taxed into poverty, with many of them unable to make provision for a pension and purchase unemployment insurance.

A pervasive and recurrent theme throughout the book is that the welfare state was not needed in the first place! Where people had the means and the necessity to provide for down times, they did so, and gave huge amounts of their disposable income to the less well-off.

Bartholomew likens the avoidable deaths in Britain's National 'Health' Service to 'a train crash every day,' estimating over more 15,000 souls dying annually than the mortality that would occur under a system of non-government hospitals and primary care.  (Sound familiar?)

He documents the terrible results of laws that encourage broken families, and the often horrific consequences when the offspring of solo parents are placed in the care of non-biologically-related males. Most telling are the examples that highlight a general decline in public morality ('the falling off of decency') as a result of intergenerational unemployment and a breakdown in the passing down of values such as hard work, thrift and personal responsibility.

The author relates low levels of taxation to high rates of growth, using the example among others of the World's Greatest Ever Bureaucrat and his hand in creating the world's freest country. James' description of Britain's underperformance in every facet of human advancement - including medical research - since the rise of the welfare state, makes sad reading.

I recommend this book to all readers. It is packed with facts, memorable anecdotes and killer quotes, and is a valuable historical reference. One comes away with a much greater appreciation of the root causes of the United Kingdom's current malaise. In many senses, the origins date back centuries. But it was David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill (who would have guessed?) that really got the ball rolling in the early twentieth century. Once Labour took power in 1945 Britain's fate was sealed, but the die was already cast.

Couldn't happen here, could it? 

Dr Richard McGrath is a Masterton GP and the leader of NZ’s Libertarianz Party. When threatened with extreme violence he can sometimes be made to write a column.


  1. Another excellent book about Britain's decline under its culture of all-reaching state benevolence is Theodore Dalrymple's Our Culture, What's Left of It.

  2. Thanks again for your company and input Richard. If you remember, James asked you to score the NZ health system out of 10. Without prompting, I later asked my husband, also a health professional, the same question, and he gave the same score for the same reasons!

  3. Hal Incandenza21 Feb 2012, 21:28:00

    Sorry, should cyclists not wear cycle helmets for aesthetic reasons "doctor"?

    And do you actually buy that research? You're a smart guy right? Go ahead and defend it.

  4. @Kiwiwit
    Thanks for the heads-up on Theodore Dalrymple. I like his writing on Sp!ked and after reading your comment I found the book available on my Kindle and dowloaded it for just $4!

    Thanks for coming back. Good to see that you respond to PC's emotional blackmail so well :D

    Dave Mann

  5. Peter Pumkinhead22 Feb 2012, 09:18:00

    Its hilarious to watch Hal's comments increasingly reveal the fuckwit beneath.

  6. Richard, thanks for the book reference, I'll definitely be following that up (hoping to get in ebook format, though doesn't initially look to be available in that form).


    Oh dear. Hal, Hal, Hal. You've successfully ignored Richard's entire message and honed in on a minor pin prick of a point. And even on that, you are wrong. Because even if, unlike Richard's point again, helmets positively saved lives, being a free adult must include the freedom to die stupidly. Quoting from my linked post:

    And the same applies to those 500 or so Port Hill residents, many in Lyttelton, threatened with the forced removal from their homes, who want to assume the risk of living under possible rock falls. It is up to each individual to decide the risk in their life, not a bureaucrat. Freedom is what the human heart and mind aspires to, always. As well as everything that freedom involves, it also involves the freedom to die stupidly, remembering that one person’s stupid risk, may well be another’s leap to new invention, or simple thrill that makes their life worth the living. Given I don’t plan to live under a possible rock fall myself, it’s a price for freedom I’m willing to pay, for better that, than we all lose our freedom to the Nanny State. On this, there can be no compromise.

  7. Richard McGrath22 Feb 2012, 11:11:00

    @Mark Hubbard:
    Very well put. I didn't really stress that regardless of the research findings (and no, Hal, I don't know how rigorous that research was), laws such as those regarding cycle helmets take away another choice from adults and, therefore, more of their freedom.

  8. Hal Incandenza22 Feb 2012, 19:20:00

    "..even if, unlike Richard's point again, helmets positively saved lives, being a free adult must include the freedom to die stupidly."

    ROFL. Live "free" and die. Motorcycle helmet laws equate to life in a gulag (even though you would all wear them regardless). You guys are weird.

  9. Hal, or as I now dub you, Mr Contextless, do you not have the ability to comprehend anything in context?

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  11. Mark, there's no point arguing. The only reason it's here is to cause trouble, so picking things out of context (or more often just flat out lies) is exactly what it does to be able to snipe and mock, despite there being no basis. Ignore it.

  12. Yes, @Hal, you're quite right.

    Iit's weird to want to live free and make your own choices--and to take responsibility for them.

    But it's not weird to demand that other make your choices for you.

    Not weird at all.

  13. Hal Incandenza23 Feb 2012, 22:20:00

    Go ahead and ride a motorcycle without a helmet (please). You can if you want to.

    What's context got to do with anything Hubbard? You're passionately in favour of repealing motorcycle helmet laws. This wouldn't affect you, as if you rode a motorcycle you would wear a helmet anyway. You're advocacy of such a policy is therefore just a manifestation of your abstraction-based ideology. However, following your ideology would result in significant numbers of people being killed. In this way libbos are similar to say the Taliban or Pol Pot. The difference is you're, fortunately, politically ineffective.

  14. @Hal: Just a few minor points:

    1) Just because someone advocates the legalisation of something, doesn't mean they want to experience it personally; they merely want others to be able to do it without being persecuted. Just as Mark might want laws forbidding helmetless motorcycling overturned, I don't want laws forbidding people from smoking cannabis, though I have no intention of ever smoking the stuff myself.

    2) There is a subtle difference between (a) having the freedom to act according to one's own decisions, versus (b) being herded into the killing fields of Cambodia and worked to death or simply slaughtered on the spot. Only one involves coercion. See if you can pick which one. Answers on a postcard please.

  15. Hal Incandenza24 Feb 2012, 18:15:00

    Yeah, focus on the outcomes of your desired actions my extremist, doctrinaire so-called doctor.

  16. @Shallow Hal: No-one is claiming a country run under a principle of maximum freedom and minimum government would be a Utopia. Human nature being what it is, there would still be criminals and unpleasantness. But people still deserve the freedom to act peacefully in furtherance of a better standard of living... or don't they?

    And please, cut the smarmy glib non-arguments.

  17. "Please, cut the smarmy glib non-arguments."

    What would be left?

  18. Hal Incandenza25 Feb 2012, 20:05:00

    "there would still be criminals and unpleasantness."

    You are a master of understatement.

    "...people still deserve the freedom to act peacefully in furtherance of a better standard of living..."

    Yes and they by and large have that despite being required to wear motorcycle helmets. Or is that the libbo definition of a gulag?

  19. @Shallow Hal: "...they by and large have that despite being required to wear motorcycle helmets. Or is that the libbo definition of a gulag?"

    You've missed the point completely - injuries to cyclists are thought to have increased due to Nanny's helmet laws, despite fewer people riding bikes.

    A gulag is somewhere like the People's State of North Korea, where the government's total cradle to grave care package means no-one has to think - the wise heads in power do it for them. Doesn't make the tree bark taste any nicer, though.


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