Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

The Old Comrades:

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Friday, April 26, 2013

MPs & Guardian readers discover regulatory capture, demand more regulation

Say it ain't so! Accountancy firms 'use knowledge of Treasury to help rich avoid tax' – MPs

Margaret Hodge, the PAC's chair, said the actions of the accountancy firms were tantamount to a scam and represented a "ridiculous conflict of interest" which must be stopped. "The large accountancy firms are in a powerful position in the tax world and have an unhealthily cosy relationship with government," she said, calling for the Treasury to stop accepting their staff to draw up new tax laws.
In other news, Margaret Hodge called for tighter regulation of the consumer credit industry, civil service procurement, welfare to work schemes, academies, and tax avoidance; and Guardian commenters demanded tighter regulation of the press.

Remember citizens, Get real - get regulated.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Azathoth: crisis of trust

Crisis for that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity as trust hits record low, the Guardian reports.

Public confidence in the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes; to which detestable pounding and piping dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic ultimate gods, the blind, voiceless, tenebrous, mindless Other Gods whose soul and messenger is the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the primordial idiot god's worst ever crisis, new data shows.
The blind idiot god encircled by his flopping horde of mindless and amorphous dancers, and lulled by the thin monotonous piping of a demonic flute held in nameless paws "could do much better if its institutions coordinated better", according to a press release issued today.

Saturday, April 20, 2013
Thinking aloud on a mountainside

Imagine you are mountain climbing or hill walking with a friend. Disaster strikes, and your friend is badly injured. Weather conditions are such that if you leave him overnight, he will certainly die. With great difficulty you are able to half carry, half drag him most of the way down the mountain. At last you see the road in the distance. Making your friend comfortable as best you can, you leave him, stagger to the road, and wait a long time for a car to pass this lonely spot. Eventually one does - you stop it by practically throwing yourself in front of it - and tell the driver that there is a seriously injured man some way up the hill who badly needs help.

"I'm not getting blood all over the seats of my car," says the driver and speeds off.

By the time another car comes it is too late.

Something a little like this happened to a man called Charles Handley climbing in Scotland in the 1950s or 60s. In 1985 the BBC made a gripping dramatised reconstruction starring Gareth Thomas (Blake from Blake's 7) called Duel with An Teallach. In fact Handley's experience was even worse: despite his incredible efforts at rescue, An Teallach claimed two of his friends that day. I could watch the play again online and clarify my nearly thirty year-old memories of it, but I won't because it was one of the grimmest things I have ever seen.

Have you guessed where this post is going? Tweak the story a little. Now Charles Handley has a gun. You have a gun. You can damn well make that driver help you get your friend to safety. And if that means he has to carry your friend on his back to the car so that you can keep the gun trained on him, too bad.

Do you do it?

Stealing his car, even without the intention "permanently to deprive" him of it, as the Theft Act puts it, is a violation of his property rights. Temporarily enslaving him to help you carry your friend down to the car is even worse. I think I would do it, even so. Afterwards I would admit the crime, pay compensation and submit to punishment.

As anyone who has read Perry de Havilland's post from yesterday will have guessed by now, what I have tried to do above is make a similar thought experiment to the one used by Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute, the one pretty much everybody but me had no sympathy for. I tried to present a scenario that would appeal rather more to the Samizdata audience than Bowman's somewhat contrived one. I have tried to inveigle you into sympathising with the bad guy - the government - in Jaded Voluntaryist's excellent re-casting of Bowman's analogy:

As an aside, this is not even close to describing welfarism. The people holding the gun aren’t disabled. And the baby isn’t drowning. And it isn’t a baby. And you’re not able bodied (at least not compared to the gun wielder). In fact, in his metaphor he has the relative power relationship completely backwards. The able bodied arsehole is waving the gun at a disabled man, ordering him to carry some random stranger on his back. A stranger who may be disabled, or may be stupid, or may be lazy, or may just be unlucky. The stranger’s complicity aside, none of that is the disabled victim’s fault. And yet carry him he must because he’s not the one with the gun.

Will I be joining the vast majority of citizens in the countries of the developed world in supporting the welfare state, then? No. There is one crucial element of Bowman's analogy that I have kept in my scenario, but which, as Jaded Voluntaryist implied when he said the baby was not drowning, does not apply to welfarism. That element is that my story depicted desperate circumstances, which is another way of saying it was a one-off. Welfarism is a system of indefinitely repeated thefts and partial enslavements. They say that it is a continuous crisis, that as there are always babies drowning somewhere you must always be rescuing them, but the insincerity of this claim is demonstrated by the fact that "somewhere" only includes the territory of your nation, state or other tax-gathering unit. Babies outside that arbitrary circle - glug, glug, goodbye. And how can it be justified for you to be forced to spend, say, 55% of your time baby-rescuing but not 56%, or every waking hour?

Overlapping this, welfarism is legitimized repeated thefts and partial enslavements. The man with the gun does not acknowledge or make reparation for his crime. It is he who decides what constitutes crime.

Furthermore there are all the factors that Jaded Voluntaryist implied in his re-casting of Bowman's analogy. It is not just babies you have to keep rescuing, but adults, and once your presence is a predictable part of the system, those adults start acting like babies on the assumption that you will always be there. That is not likely to end well for you or them.

I will refrain from re-stating further objections to the system of welfare. I am sure most of you have thought of them already, but all these thoughts did lead me to another topic upon which the opinions of Samizdata readers and writers are much harder to predict.

Having to carry a stranger because otherwise the stranger will die is approximately the position of a pregnant woman expecting an unwanted child. A key part of the pro-abortion argument is opposition to forcing a woman to give up part of her body and her time to carry the child. Foetus. Whatever. For instance, this comment from yesterday's Guardian by commenter ZappBrannigan says,

Don't let them win the battle of symbols. Don't use their terminology. They are not "pro-life". I propose "mandatory-gestation" instead.
Or here is commenter Thaizinred from the same comment thread:
No already born person has a right to directly use another person's body to stay alive. People aren't forced to donate their bodies, or body parts, even if someone else will die without them, even if the person who will die is their child.
The latter's argument overstates the case. The pregant woman does not have to permanently give up her body or her body parts, but the general point is starkly made, and in a way that will resonate with many libertarians.

I am anti-abortion with reservations and get-out clauses. So I mock the Guardian readers and other "liberals" (in the degraded modern sense) who one minute angrily make the arguments above; who denounce anyone who opposes welfare or jibs at high taxes as a callous, selfish sociopath; who would abort themselves with a rusty coathanger rather than admit that Ayn Rand ever said a good word - and who next minute channel Rand , becoming the purest of pure no-forced-assistance libertarians when the topic is abortion. Such people end up saying that you must give half your time to helping strangers in no particular danger but have no obligation to bear temporary inconvenience to save the life of a being you caused to exist.

So much for them. What about you? To some, I would guess, it is very simple. You are not inconsistent. You are pure libertarians, perhaps indeed Objectivists and proud of it, and you make your stand on the property right of the woman to permanent, uninterrupted, unconstrained use of her own body. You might, perhaps, also think that the foetus is not human until birth but your argument does not rest on that, as Thaizinred's comment did not.

To use another analogy, your view is that if the captain of a ship at sea sees survivors of a shipwreck clinging to wreckage, the captain can and, for some of you, ought to rescue them, but he does not have to and must not be compelled to.

A minority of libertarians - including me - have views more like these guys: that the foetus becomes human before birth (I shall leave aside the question of exactly when, or if "when" can be exact) and his, her, or its parents (I am trying not to beg the question of whether the foetus is human by choice of pronouns) owe him, her or it protection whatever the inconvenience just as they owe protection to their one day old or one year old child.

And suddenly I've run out of steam. This always happens when I talk about abortion and the related question of obligations to small children. There are so many sides to the question. What about rape? What about unintended conception? What about the difference between actively killing and merely withdrawing sustenance? Can I come up with a reason to forbid the Spartans to expose their babies on the mountainside that does not open the door to welfarism and all its ruinous consequences? What about this, that and t'other?

Abortion is a sharp issue. Not many of us have carried out a life or death rescue, with or without force being used. Quite a lot of people have had abortions or been closely affected by them. I hope discussion won't be too acrimonious, but I think almost anything is better discussed than not.

Thursday, April 04, 2013
When, if ever, is it right to use recent horrific crimes to push for political changes you wanted anyway?

I was struck by a particular contrast between two opinion columns that appeared in today's Guardian. Both made reference to crimes in which many children were killed.

The first column I would like to look at, written by Zoe Williams, refers to the crime described here. Mick Philpott had lived in a ménage à trois with his wife, Mairead, his mistress Lisa Willis and the eleven children the two women had bore him. When Lisa Willis walked out on this arrangement, taking her five children - and their welfare benefits - with her, the Philpotts and another man set a fire at the Philpott house with the aim of framing Ms Willis for it, which would help him regain custody of their children and the income stream that came with them, and also so that Philpott could be seen to rescue the other six children who still lived in that house. It would also aid him in his custody battle to be hailed a hero. As it turned out, he could not rescue them. All six died in the fire. The three conspirators have been jailed for multiple manslaughter, with Mick Philpott receiving the longest sentence as the dominant figure in the group.

The Daily Mail published an article headed "Vile product of Welfare UK: Man who bred 17 babies by five women to milk benefits system is guilty of killing six of them."

Zoe Williams of the Guardian was deeply angered by this. Her Guardian column has the title "Don't get mad about the Mail's use of the Philpotts to tarnish the poor – get even." Ms Williams writes,

It is vitriolic, illogical depersonalisation to ascribe the grotesqueness of one wild, unique crime to tens of thousands of people on benefits. When any section of society is demonised on irrational grounds we have to take that seriously, so I will complain to the Press Complaints Commission, and I hope you will too.
The readers' comments share Ms Goodman's outrage, as does a similar comment piece about the same crime by Graeme Cooke which says,
There's nothing wrong with moral principles in welfare policy but making political capital from an appalling crime is offensive.

The second, contrasting Guardian column, by Amy Goodman, referred to the gun massacre of twenty children and six adults carried out by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. That crime and its legal and moral implications were discussed at length in this blog at the time it occurred.

Amy Goodman's column has the title "It's time for the majority to move on gun control" and includes the words:

The moment to pass gun control was when the national attention was riveted on the massacre at Sandy Hook, the brutal slaying of 20 children and six adults. Before the broken bodies of those victims fade from memory, our broken body politic must be mended. What is needed is a vigorous grassroots movement, to provide the leadership so lacking in Washington DC.

I do not wish to simply jeer at the inconsistency of the reaction of the Guardian's writers and readers. They could quite fairly throw the same jibe back at us - I assume that most readers of this blog oppose gun control and objected to the demonisation of American gun owners because of one grotesque crime on much the same grounds as Ms Williams objects to the demonisation of British welfare claimants for one grotesque crime. I post this to ask, not answer, the question, when is it offensive and when is it a moral necessity to make political capital over the bodies of dead children?