The Nature of Libertarianism

This post started life as a comment on Doctorvee’s post about libertariansim, UKIP and the Devil’s Kitchen. However, it became rather rambling (as is my wont) so I’m putting it here.

Doctorvee points out what he sees as inconsistencies in the Devil’s Kitchen’s libertarian credentials because of contradictions in UKIP’s polices; or, more to the point, contradictions in statements made by Nigel Farage. The conclusion being that UKIP aren’t really that libertarian, so this undermines DK’s position, somewhat. I think I’ve got that right, but I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I haven’t.

I don’t see any conflict though. Political ideologies are all very well, but we live in a world that is far from the black and white of the purist. We have had a Labour government for nearly a decade. What happened to public ownership of the means of production? Cameron’s Tories are embracing the principles of the NHS. What happened to the free market economy? What happened, of course, was pragmatism. The tacit acknowledgement that politics is a dirty business fought in the centre ground; which is where the votes are. Therefore, the acquisition of power means compromise. Compromise in itself is no bad thing. That’s how we reach agreements, and, hopefully, avoid too much conflict. It’s how we rub along, so I’m not going to knock it.

Libertarianism in its pure form is anarchy. If you are to have individual freedom, sooner or later you are going to need commonly accepted rules to govern the limits of that freedom. Put simply, all freedoms are limited to a greater or lesser degree. I do not profess to have the freedom to do as I please if it hurts others or impinges on their freedoms. The moment we accept this principle, we have stepped away from the brink of anarchy that is the absolute of libertarianism.

None of the libertarian bloggers I frequent appear to be offering anarchy as an alternative to what we have. This means that they recognise the need for some form of collective behaviour where individuals are unable to achieve their aims alone. We need government for foreign policy, policing, defence, local services, for example. Therefore, we accept (grudgingly) the need for general taxation to fund these activities. Depending on just how extreme is the individual will decide just how large that list is. So all of those libertarian bloggers are prepared to compromise. It doesn’t damage their libertarian credentials, though; it merely makes them pragmatists.

For an increasingly disenfranchised electorate, our vote is something we cast to the least worst option. UKIP are probably the least authoritarian party on the British political landscape at present. This does not fill me with cheer. A libertarian blogger throwing his weight behind them is understandable. That they may not be as libertarian as we would like is, well, compromise.

Anyway, on to the matter of immigration control – or as Doctorvee puts it; governments telling people where they can live.

But predictably, just one minute later, he advocates the view that governments should be able to tell people where they can and can’t live.

The fact that different countries have different GDPs is not a good argument against “the unfettered free trade of peoples between countries”. GDP is a measure of all of the income earned in an economy. So if you say that a country has a lower (per capita) GDP than another, that just means that the average income of a citizen of that country is lower.

Different people have different incomes. That is a fact of life. These differences in income exist within Europe. They also exist within the UK. They also exist within Kirkcaldy.

If this is so much of a problem that the government has to set some kind of limit to immigration, then it must also be enough of a problem to set a limit to the amount that people move within a country. There would be quotas on the number of people who can move from the Highlands to the Home Counties. They would build a moat around Ferguslie Park.

Personally, I’m happy with the principle of open borders. However, for that to be a viable option, all nations would have to operate open borders to have any hope of a free movement of labour (you can take it that I don’t like protectionism in trade either). Ours is a small island with a population of sixty million. Inevitably, immigration control will rear its ugly head. That people who are otherwise libertarian should be advocating such controls is not a contradiction, it is just evidence of that compromise coming into play. It is a pragmatic recognition that lines on maps are, indeed, important. So important that humanity has fought wars over them. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is; that’s life; so we must accept it. The argument comparing movement of peoples within the UK and peoples moving in from outside is fine but for the small matter of numbers. Just how many people can we accommodate before it becomes too much? Therefore, considering the possible imbalance between low and high GDP countries makes sense. Another factor to consider is the steady outflow of UK citizens to the sunnier spots in the EU. There’s still an imbalance, but again, needs to be considered. As DK himself pointed out, he has reservations.

All I was saying was that I have reservations about that policy, and my reservations are on the grounds of space and culture too.

Voicing reservation is not hypocrisy.

Jarndyce makes a charge in the comments of DV’s post. An unfair one, I might add:

You’ve pinpointed the glaring hypocrisy of most people who call themselves libertarians. They’re usually nothing of the sort: more like “what I have, no matter how I got it, is mine”-ians.

You could add to that; “and what is yours, no matter how you got it, is yours”. I’ll add the caveat that I am assuming on both counts we are talking about legal and honest means.

Libertarians compromise – well, there’s a newsflash. Everyone compromises. Where the debate begins is determined by the degree of compromise each individual is able to swallow.