Saturday, 1 May 2010

Beyond May 7th

A guest posting by IanPJ on Politics, repeated from his own blog.

It is six months now since I resigned my leadership of the Libertarian Party UK, and 3 months since I let my membership lapse.

I had good reasons to step back, let others take the reins and refrain from getting involved in the politics of LPUK. It has allowed me instead to concentrate my time and efforts on the democratic deficit with the EU referendum campaign group The Albion Alliance in preparation for the forthcoming elections, although I do wish those LPUK candidates who are standing for election the very best in their campaigns.

However, I have been asked to write something at this time as to what Libertarians should be doing beyond May 7th, after what has been an expertly choreographed (barring the occasional human error) yet bland personality driven election campaign, in the sense that there is far too much celebrity style publicity, profile and spin but very little in the way of political substance, with so very little difference between the policies of the only 3 parties with enough power to ensure that they are projected into our homes every day. (its hard to believe that overall there are 45 parties standing in these elections plus independents)

We are fast approaching the post democratic age as Peter Mandelson has oft described it and the outcome of this election is in my mind almost certainly destined to be a Government of National Unity after the egos have all been massaged and the dross removed.

So before I get into the area of what I think Libertarians should be doing to counter balance this, I will begin by asking a question, because I think that most people are Libertarian by nature, want to be in control of their own lives and their own decisions, manage their own aspirations and dreams, yet refuse to acknowledge that they have already given most of that away to the state.

If for instance I suggested that we live in a state of democratic dictatorship, a totalitarian regime, most people would reject that notion out of hand. The overwhelming majority would probably say “balderdash, we have a free and democratic society, there are no tanks or troops on the streets, no barbed wire at the border”, but please, humour me, because the images of the past do not necessarily represent the totalitarianism of the future.

So, to my question, and it is not new, and regular readers will know that I have asked this many times before, because the modern totalitarian state is not ruled by guns and thugs, but by laws and corporate partners. So much so in fact that virtually everything you do, touch, buy, make, sell, eat or imbibe is covered by a plethora of political laws, rules and regulations. Totally..
Totalitarian?  If you don’t believe that Britain is governed totally by political rules, regulations, orders and diktats, please name me 6 everyday activities, yes, just six, that you undertake that does not require a. permission, b. licence, c. regulated action, d. regulated packaging, materials, ingredients, tools etc.
i.e. 6 activities that never touch the state or a regulator.
Before you read on, I ask you to think about that question, try to find at least one totally free area of your life, one thing that you do before you deflate and realise that there is actually a rule or regulation somewhere that already covers it.

Then ask yourself why do we have nearly half the population working for the government, either centrally, locally or in Agencies & Quangos, whose sole purpose in life is creating, implementing or policing even more of these regulations.

In the UK the average during the last 13 years has been 1 new law every single day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks each and every year, with the creation during that period of over 3500 new criminal offences. Heaped upon that there have been in excess of 120,000 regulations imposed by the EU and just to keep the momentum going, there are already another 1000+ new pieces of EU legislation currently lined up ready for implementation, most of which will apply to the UK.

Yet acceptance of this totalitarianism is now so ingrained in the public psyche that I am unsurprised that during the past weeks as politicians and party manifestos have been under a managed scrutiny, not once has a single question been raised to address this issue. It is clear that there will be no rolling back of the state under whoever wins this election.

So how does this manifest itself in your daily life, and how has it come about. It has been a very complex mix of economics, legislation and government created jobs.

Firstly the economics. When Labour came to power in 1997, their mantra was to eliminate boom and bust. No mean feat, as the economic cycles had always been driven by the financial world. As markets in banking, insurance, re-insurance and mortgages grow, they eventually become saturated, no new customers, few new financial products, so the market has to collapse itself, in as controlled a fashion as possible, with bankruptcy, repossessions and asset sell-offs cushioning the fall for the financial industry, and then the cycle of growth begins all over again, and with each cycle the financial industry gets bigger and stronger.

The new plan, not just here but throughout the Western world was to wrest control of this financial cycle away from the financial industry and put it in the hands of the politicians. The method employed was simple, but it was without doubt unsustainable as the world discovered in 2008.

In the UK changes to the regulatory structure were put in place, moving some competences away from the Bank of England to the Treasury and a newly created Financial Services Agency. This tripartite system was purposefully vague enabling a feeble regulatory structure requiring little by way of accountable responsibility from each party.

Legislation was then passed enabling building societies to de-mutualise, merge and become banks, lending was encouraged at every level, flooding the markets with new finance, loans, credit and it involved an awful lot of reckless lending.  At the same time in the US, the Federal Government passed into law the Community Reinvestment Act, which forced banks to continue lending, outside of their normal risk models to secondary markets, thereby creating loans many times larger than their balance sheets.

The consequence of this political action was the creation of CDO’s and the Toxic Financial Instruments, and was the response of Banks and Insurance companies finding an innovative and unregulated method of offsetting the risk that they would not normally have undertaken had it not been for the CRA, but beyond that, the rest of the financial crisis was undoubtedly a simple case of greed that got out of hand. The law of unintended consequences had taken over.

But the unfettered lending continued through the end of the first natural cycle, the markets which were by now fully saturated and beyond should have collapsed.

However what happened was that as the private sector slowed, stopped investing and replacing equipment as it did at the end of every economic cycle, it triggered the signal for governments to step in.

Unfortunately not quick enough to stop some of the IT industry from collapse, with companies such as Siemens, MCI, NTL & Global Crossing either going into administration or filing for Chapter 11 cover, but quick enough for government to begin passing legislation that would allow the creation of jobs to replace those that would naturally have disappeared.

Now it was time for Governments to really get going. Legislation was so prolific that MPs rarely had time to read it, let alone discuss and debate.

For example: Legislation was passed to allow Council Housing stocks to be transferred to Housing Associations, along with more legislation that created obligations to renovate and upgrade. Even more legislation created a myriad of simple training schemes to take those from the unemployed lines into the building trades, grants to set up their own small business to service the need for plumbers, carpenters, kitchen fitters, windows, gutters, roofing, insulation, electricians as millions of houses across the country were upgraded created by the legislation.

Then the regulation quickly followed. Only approved contractors, creating a myriad of specialist training establishments, certification, licensing, approvals, new gas regulations, new regulation for the connection of electrical fittings, regulations on health & safety, then the HIPS on house sales, and more promises of more jobs created on the back of legislation and regulation.

This continued not just in the housing market but a plethora of new laws on sales, repairs, parts, registrations, replacements, disposals as new regulations continued to flow across literally every trade and industry. It doesn’t matter which industry sector you look at, nothing was left untouched.

To replace the near static private sector purchasing power, Governments across the western world resuscitated the ailing IT industry by embarking on the biggest technological undertakings the world had ever seen, driven by consulting firms and outsourcing the workings of virtually every government department, robotising its workforce with methodologies, taking every ill of the world and looking for a technology and regulatory answer very quickly created the the monolithic database and police state we see today.

Yet there was still more legislation & regulation stripping the public of rights and freedoms, using the politics of fear across the board from terrorists to paedophiles, international criminal gangs as big as governments, health scares and global warming, terrorising the public into allowing this technology to be used by the State in ways the British had rarely thought of, creating in its wake even more state jobs to police, monitor and cajole to keep us all in line with ever increasing fines and FPN’s.  State approved ‘security’ industry jobs are now one of the biggest growth areas right across the EU.

And since the financial crisis in 2008, a large portion of the banking industry is also under the direct control of government.

Lets not forget that by now all of this change and ongoing economic activity was being directly paid for by taxpayers as government activity rather than remaining in the private sector. Taxpayers are now paying directly for banking bailouts, consultants, contractors, grants for training, job-centre schemes, equipment, research, energy projects, PFI schemes, local authority contracted services, security industry, we can see the foothold of Keynesian economics has taken root and grown like a communist cancer, and along with it an open door to nepotism and corruption at all levels.

Now all of this activity and regulation did indeed smooth out the markets, for the period between 2000 and 2008 there was only boom, no bust, but the economy had moved from the traditional wealth creators to government.

Even before the financial crisis in 2008 the private sector made up of long term sustainable businesses, were going bust in record numbers, leaving government with a decreasing corporation tax revenue take and an ever increasing deficit. With so much money now committed it left government with little choice but to increase borrowing and taxation.

Today, the idea that the State IS the economy is now so rooted in government that the very idea of taxation cuts put forward as policy in the election debates is seen as removing monies from the economy.

But just as the Economics has moved to government ownership, so had there been a massive shift in the balance between the servant and master. Government is no longer seen as our servant but our ruler, has swept away all the institutional checks and balances that history had provided, and increasingly sees the public as the worker units that pays for it all. (a fuller explanation of this can be seen in the speech given by Sean Gabb to Conservative Future in Feb09)

The idea of local authorities providing services was once something that you requested because you wished to use it, now however ‘services’ are more often something that you are legally obliged to use, will be fined for not doing so, especially for failing to use such designated service in a prescribed and stipulated way, such as bin collections.

Local authorities will regularly use legislation designed to protect us against terrorism to snoop, spy, log and monitor the very people they are supposedly there to serve to ensure that we continue to use, and pay for, those state outsourced services.

The undertaking of simple community activities that we have done freely for hundreds of years such as a fete, fair or carnival now involves huge amounts of state involvement, taxpayer money and the use of ‘authorised’ personnel creating so many unsustainable non-jobs.

So where now for those Libertarians, Classical Liberals and those who just want a more liberating Britain, who want to see the return of Government by consent, MPs who will place individual liberty above the dogma and the all encompassing communitarian ideology on offer by the Lib/Lab/Con at this election. Whoever is returned will be giving us government that no longer wishes to serve but instead to shape and control the community, and lets face it, totalitarianism is totalitarianism whether it is supranational, national, regional or local.

It doesn’t really matter whether it is Brown’s central control, Clegg’s federalism or Cameron’s regionalised localism, it will remain a totalitarian state.

As you can see, any undertaking towards the undoing of this enormous state involvement in our lives is a huge task, and as my time with the Libertarian Party showed me clearly, the general public either cannot see this totalitarianism all around them, or in our very British way they are choosing to suffer it or ignore it until it really hurts. There is no mad rush or stampede at this time looking for alternatives and for Libertarians to attempt to compete directly in the national political arena only attracts derision and ridicule from both the media and politicians.

Right now, today, it is a difficult question to answer, because life in the UK, the EU, and indeed much of the Western world, is going to get a lot lot worse before anyone is in any position to make it any better. This soft communist, communitarian form of government that has been created is not one that is sustainable, no such government model ever has and it will not last for ever.

For the population to stay above the water line there are no more taxes that can be borne, for government, there is a diminishing scope for further borrowing as the cost of servicing its existing debts continue to rise. The first national dominoes are already wobbling in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Any suggestions by politicians that they can stem this tide, like Canute it is at best an optimistic challenge, perhaps with expensive dams holding back the waters for another 12 months, but then they have to sell a dream, especially at election time.

That this country now has the potential to economically collapse and slide into a poverty and enforced repression not seen on these shores since the middle ages would not be an over simplification of a very serious but plausible process. The legislation is already there.

So as Libertarians we must adapt with it. We must live with it but we oppose it, we must work to chip away and expose at every opportunity, we should work inside the bigger political parties and organisations, we should stand in local and county elections where we can reach and properly address more people at a time, we should undertake committee and advisory roles in quangos, charities and agencies, we will take jobs or open businesses where we can influence how current policies are implemented to limit their totalitarian impact, and we must reclaim our places of learning.  We will continue to prepare our policies and processes, and at the same time continue to give out the message of how a free and Liberating alternative form of consensual government would take shape.

We may even have to mimic the methods of the past, some of which have been used against us, we may become the new Samizdat, the moles and fifth columnists inside the establishment until the public are ready, because it is the public at large who decide, as they will, as they have with every totalitarian regime, that it is they who have had enough.

I feel in my bones that we are approaching the end of an epoch, an ending of the way things once were, the comfort of continuity. I do not sense whether it will be spectacularly quick or drawn out and so more painful to watch the demise, nor do I know whether life after that ending will be better or worse. Much like reaching the edge of the universe, after having travelled for so long with the familiar, a sense of apprehension pervades everything as no-one knows quite what, if anything, lays ahead.

But I do believe in people, their natural goodness, their belief and understanding in right and wrong and their inherent libertarian nature. I have seen too many nations finally taken back by their populations to think otherwise. Eventually it will happen here too.

Until then, time, patience and an unswerving determination to roll back an overbearing and intrusive state will be our greatest strength, and those of a Libertarian disposition will be ready.

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