British Conservative Wants to Outdo Liberal Democrats on the Free Market by Adopting their Policy: And other comments on classical liberalism in the Liberal Democrats

The conservative British daily The Telegraphy, reports today that David Ruffley MP wants to break free of supposed  Liberal Democrat shackles on free market policies by abolishing the Business Department, headed by the Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable.  Well abolishing the Business department was Liberal Democrat policy before the last general election and the Coalition agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  So Ruffley wants to outdo the Liberal Democrats on free markets by adopting Liberal Democrat policy!  Of course it is true that the Liberal Democrats are less keen on market influenced reform of public services than the Conservatives, most notably with regard to the National Health Service,along with schools.  Though there is some ambiguity here since the top dıown means by which the government is introducing these changes itself conflicts with the market tendency to find new, changing and variable solutions to satisfying demands.  And as I point out in my last post, it is Conservatives not Liberal Democrats who favour immigration restrictions, itself a major attack on individual liberty along with free labour markets.  It is true that Liberal Democrat party  members are less instinctively prone to free market language than Conservative party members, and that during Tony Blair’s premiership, the Lib Dems often presented themselves as protectors of public services from New Labour market reforms.

However, this is not the full story, and many of the Liberal Democrat reservations about pubic sector reform have related to the top down means which are against the spirit of markets.  It is the case that the Liberal Democrats have been edging towards a more free market classical liberal friendly position.  Major steps include: the publication of the Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism (2004) with essays by prominent liberal democrats sympathetic to market leaning policies; the election of Nick Clegg as party leader (2007), who has more clearly distinguished the Liberal Democrats from social democracy and the left than a series of predecessors; the formation of LiberalVision (I can’t check the date of founding right now, but a few years ago, I am a contributor to the website) as a party group with a strong classical liberal/libertarian identity;  the formation of Liberal Reform earlier this year, as a party gathering sympathetic to a greater role for markets.  None of these marks the conversion of the Liberal Democrats to classical liberal purity, but each is a step in a more classical liberal direction.  Anyway, the Conservative Party, including the party right is not pure either, mixing centrist concessions to powerful lobbies demanding state action and right social conservative attacks on cross boarder labour mobility, and various areas of individual liberty.

The real absurdity of Ruffley’s Lib Dem bashing from  a free market direction is that he was speaking at the Institute of Economic Affairs, the leading body in the UK promoting classical liberal free market small government ideas.  The Director General of the IEA cannot belong to a any political party, or express party political partisanship.  Nevertheless, there fact is the present Director General  Mark Littlewood used to be chief press spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and founded LiberalVision.

There is an element in the Liberal Democrat left which cannot accept classical liberal ideas in the Liberal Democrats, though that is where the party came from, as the descendant of the Liberal Party of the 1840s.  There is a very strong element on the Tory right which needs to think it has a monopoly on classical liberal thinking, and does not just disagree with the Liberal Democrats but needs to hate them.  The basis of that is not and cannot be classical liberalism, it is the Tory (Conservative traditionalist) assumption the they are the natural people of government, and anyone else competing with tim for power must be grubby opportunists, who cannot possibly compete with them on issues of liberty and market economics.


Disadvantages of Immigration Control

Financial Times  reports on UK universities fears that government attempts to bring down immigration (a policy very much coming from the Conservative site of the current Coalition, and not the Liberal Democrat side) will harm them as foreign students are less able to enter the country, or fear that they will be less able.  The reputation and finances of UK universities is very tied up with foreign students.  

The Repeated Myth of the Death of the European Social Model

So following on from the last post, it is important that Greeks and Germans communicate with other in an open way about the crisis and admit faults on both sides.  Sadly the only way out of this is austerity, so that Greek public spending is in line with taxes raised, and so that Greek private and public debt has some creditability with lenders, that is they can reasonably expect to get money back eventually.  This is the underlying problem. No one managed to run a successful economy without credit and debt, credibility of debt management is key t economic growth and is therefore key to raising the living standards of the poorest, and increased social spending.   A period of austerity, properly administered will benefit all Greeks including the poorest, and will benefit public services along with welfare systems.  The radical left in Greece and across Europe is taking the opportunity to loudly proclaim it’s all some conspiracy against not the Greek, but European welfare state and general provision of public services.  This is transparent nonsense.  Europe now spends more absolutely, and proportionately, on welfare and public services, than it did in the sixties.  In some countries public spending has gone down as a proportion of the economy since the 70s, but not everywhere, and even where it has, absolute levels of spending are far higher than in the 70s.  That is increased prosperity has allowed private wealth to outstrip rising public provision.  Of course those who proclaim the assassination of the European social model in the current crisis have already proclaimed it assassinated during the ‘Neoliberal’ phases of the 80s.  Their analysis was grossly misleading about the recent past and is so now; and their current analysis shows how wrong their past analysis was, because they claimed that the assassination had already taken place.

Personally I’d be happy to see a rethink of the European social model so that welfare was directed at the poorest only, and economies are deregulated.  Despite widespread mythology about market fundamentalism and jungle capitalism, markets are more regulated in Europe AND in the USA, than in the past.  Some measures of liberalisation with regard to capital flows and labour markets should not obscure the overall picture of increasing numbers of regulations, and the increasing economic impact of those regulations.  Of course this would be denounced by those who denounce the supposed repeated death of the European social model, as some kind of death worse than death, or whatever; but would leave better funded public services and protection for the  poor than impaired markets, and than  social welfare which is increasingly for people well above the lowest income brackets.

Is Germans advising Greeks on Tax Collection a Problem? Or Grating my Cheese.

This started off as a comment on another blog, but became too long for  a  story that was only a few lines long, in a blog that specialises in short items.  It’s a blog I generally enjoy and admire, Kids Prefer Cheese, a joint authored blog by two libertarian academics in the US which has a strong humour element mixed with outrage about big government intrusions on personal liberty and markets, and the movements on left and right that enable this.  However, as with quite a lot of American libertarian stuff, there is an undertone creeping in sometimes of sneer at Europe.  I think the authors would say its just  a joke, but the kind of jokes people tell say something about underling attitudes.

Please do go and check out the blog, which I do constantly through my RSS feed.  The item which grated my cheese (as Homer Simpson might say) is ‘One step closer to sending the gunboats’, and refers to German tax collectors who have volunteered to assist Greek colleagues in administration of taxes.  Do please check it out, and stay to check the better posts (to my mind).

Alright I had a laugh about this, but really the underlying assumptions are just awful.
No this is nothing to do with gunboats. Advising Greeks on how to improve a dismal level of public administration, with regard to a key issue in Greece’s financial problems, tax is not collected on a very wide level, is not an act of aggression. Of course there will be loud mouths in Greece who will try to make something of this, but I’m sure most Greeks have the sense to ignore it. These are volunteers advising Greek administrators, not thugs strong arming Greek citizens. Given how very very poor tax collection in Greece is, I’m sure we’re talking about low hanging fruit in terms of improving tax collection, not extreme measures of Teutonic intrusion to squeeze every last Eurocent of possible tax liability out of cowering Greeks. The idea that everyone in Europe is in the grip of ancient hatreds, ready to boil over, at any provocation is what is assumed here and is wrong. Given the extreme economic distress in Greece, I think we should the Greeks some credit for maturity. Leaving aside inevitable loud mouths, demonstrations by the relatively strong but still minority Greek radical left, and trade union actions, I would say Greeks have shown considerable restraint in terrible circumstances.  Enough to suggest that this will not be taken the wrong way by most people.

Supposed Scandal of Weak Border Checks for the UK: No Harm Done

I’ve allowed blogging to go slow again, now I’ve settled into the second semester at university, I hope to pick things up again.  For now a news item in the conservative UK newspaper, The Telegraph,  ‘500,000 passengers allowed to enter Britain on Eurostar without border checks’.  Eurostar is the Channel Tunnel rail service.

Key quotes

Checks against the Home Office Warnings Index were not carried out on about 500,000 European Economic Area (EEA) nationals travelling to the UK on Eurostar services from France, Mrs May admitted.

Mrs May also said students from low risk countries had been allowed to enter Britain even when they did not have visa clearance.

biometric chip reading facility had been deactivated on 14,812 occasions at a number of ports between January and June 2011.

Secure ID checks were also suspended a total of 482 times between June 2010 and November 2011, including 463 times at Heathrow alone, and most of these were between one and four hours.


And what harm was done?  There are issues here about public agencies carrying out government policy and discrimination between different countries, which should not be ignored.  However, the main thrust of the story is that it is somehow very dangerous not to have intrusive and time consuming checks of everyone entering the UK, even from France, a peaceful friendly country, with which we have an effective passport union through common membership of the European Union, which is based on principles of the free movement of goods, services and labour.  That is people are supposedly able to move freely through the European Union to further their economic opportunities.  Clearly border checks do not enhance such a process.  And where is the harm to the UK in the ‘failure’ of border checks?

The scandal is not the failure of checks, but the whole control freak security state anti-foreigner anti-free movement mentality of those border checks.  They have been shown to be unnecessary and in fact are counter productive, though that is an argument for another day.