THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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February 2013

Of poverty and privilege

After less than two years back in Britain I am bored of the first world problems of this plump and pampered land. I am particularly tired, for example, of the overused word "privilege". To me, the great enemy of mankind is not privilege but poverty. Those of us who are not poor represent a problem solved. The question is how to increase the wealth of those who still are. As a purely economic issue, that's a question long since answered.

History shows us that free markets cure poverty fastest. History also shows us that socialism increases poverty. Ask the millions of people in the former Soviet Bloc. It is a stupid, nasty, hateful doctrine; the moral equivalent of deliberately infecting the healthy with disease in order to reduce health inequality.

Socialism's obsession with material goods ignores the fact that the ability to accumulate wealth, important though it is as an engine of economic development, is not that big a deal at a personal level. Faced with my late wife's cancer, our life's savings could ultimately only buy her more comfortable surroundings in which to die. Material rewards for a life of hard work are all very well, but any sane person knows that true happiness comes from things that have little or nothing to do with money; health, culture, education. recreation and family. 

There's a wonderful passage in one of Billy Connolly's shows where he talks of a man at a dinner party who, asked what he did, said "I am a tobogganist". Connolly has much fun imagining what his Glaswegian working class father would have said if he had told him that's what he wanted to be. I have recently been reading about the famous photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. Both came from rich families. Both walked away confidently from their material comforts (although Frank occasionally took money from his parents to help him along) in order to embark on artistic careers. Their equivalent, if you like, of tobogganing.

The confidence, perhaps even arrogance, of such people about the importance of their life choices derives from the fact that, unlike Billy Connolly (and most working-class children) they have no practical-minded parents telling them, with their best interests at heart, to "get a real job" The confidence, or indulgence, of their parents is helped by money, of course. If you can't support your child for ever, you are understandably more anxious to see him support himself. But their "privilege" was more complicated than that. Their parents did not laugh at them when they aspired to be "tobogganists". Rather, they expected of them, if that's what they were going to do, that they should head for the highest Alp. That expectation is the true nature of privilege.

Yes, it's easier with money but it's also possible without. Chinese children do not do best in Britain's schools because Chinese parents are, on average, richer. They do better because their parents, on average, value education more highly and expect more effort. A "tiger mother" may not feel like a privilege when you are under her care and control, but she is worth more than all the money in the world. Any parent, rich or poor, educated or not, can be a good parent - with better effect on their child's ultimate happiness (and, incidentally, the nation's prosperity) than any redistribution of wealth.

I remember two long-lost school friends in my scruffy home town up North. Their father was a dustman devoid of all aspiration. Their mother, however, had a dream. Both arrived at infants school able to read because she had pushed them around town in their prams teaching them to do so from the road signs. Unashamedly eccentric herself, she empowered them to be different from their contemporaries and not to give a damn about the relentless peer pressure to be stupid at our bog-standard comprehensive school.

She wasn't Chinese. She was from the white working class; now the second-worst performing ethnic group in Britain's schools. She did nothing any parent, grand-parent or aunt - rich or poor - could not do. I wish all the whingeing envy-ridden half-wits banging on about "privilege" would shut up and be like that scruffy, oddball, utterly splendid mother. She refused to be defined by her circumstances. So - if we have any dignity - should we all.

If you have economically under-privileged kids, if you teach them, are related to them or even just have them as neighbours don't tell them they are doomed. Don't encourage them to hatred and envy. Encourage them to dream of "tobogganing" and lend them the occasional book. Let them see you reading for pleasure (pretend if you have to) so they think of it as normal. Then they will be privileged kids too.

An interesting question

Sean Linnane: QUESTION.

Excellent milblogger Sean asks the interesting question why right wing NRA members are presented as a threat in America, when the nut jobs on killing sprees have mostly been registered Democrats.

He's looking at his question wrongly. Those so sure they know better how others should live as to have no qualms about using state violence to compel them are precisely the ones to be feared around weapons. Mostly, of course, they will prefer to have others use the state's weapons on their behalf, but if they have a mental breakdown there is nothing in their ethics, upbringing or personal inclinations to provide a moral barrier to using their own.

State forceIn Los Angeles, as the hunt for another registered Democrat on a killing spree continues, police opened fire on two innocent ladies delivering newspapers from the same kind of truck as the suspect. They seem to have done so without any attempt at identification. They didn't even shout a warning first.

It seems that those drawn to jobs as the state's armed enforcers are also among those not to be trusted with weapons. I suggest it's for the same psychological reasons. As the validated agents of what they see as a superior moral force, they feel justified in their appalling actions, but also sure that if they get it wrong the state will defend them. Reckless and panicky they may be, but having injured two innocents they "protect and serve" they are safe. At least as safe, say, as an NHS mandarin who presided over the deaths of thousands.

Nor is it coincidence that unthinking advocates of statist violence are so consistent in seeking to disarm others. Those others, after all, are people who want weapons for defence against either them, or their beloved state, when they get out of control.

There is no contradiction here, Sean. It is not a bug. It's a feature.

Our uncaring, selfish and cruel NHS

Stafford scandal: Let’s face the truth about our uncaring, selfish and cruel NHS - Telegraph.

For once, one of Britain's mainstream journalists did his job. Years ago I incredulously watched a consultant at our local hospital, asked politely by me to give my sick father some information on his condition, do so at the top of his voice in the middle of Nightingale ward full of similarly anxious families. He neither moved, nor even glanced, towards him to do so. He never looked up from his notes. The only concern he showed was for my impudence in daring to ask. Ever since then, I have seen the "envy of the world" line for the crock that it is.

The Conservative Party has betrayed so many of its key principles that we can now be surprised at nothing David Cameron says to justify his portrait one day hanging on the Downing Street stairs. But can anyone doubt the depth and permanence of his betrayal when they read the words (my emphasis);
In retaining his power, Sir David, who is a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, had already been endorsed by our political leaders. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, publicly backed him. David Cameron, in the House of Commons, expressed every confidence in the great man. 
Had the revolution come in the way the CPGB originally planned, there would at least have been a way to deal with Sir David Nicholson. The families of thousands slaughtered on his watch might have had the grim satisfaction of hearing that gunshot.

All they will hear under this miserable Frankfurt School communism by stealth is the sound of a political class that will no more submit to a bog-standard NHS hospital than they would send their children to a bog-standard comp., murmuring platitudes as they cover each others backs.

EU civil servants instructed to troll blogs

EU to set up euro-election 'troll patrol' to tackle Eurosceptic surge - Telegraph.
Sometimes I wish I were more cynical. Then I would not be shocked that EU politicians facing a concerted EU-sceptic campaign would get nasty in defence of their privileges.

Consider the Kinnocks, for example. Neil was perhaps the least effective politician in British history and Glenys was just a small-minded provincial parroting the views she grew up with. The entire family, sitting as a committee, could probably not have passed a GCSE in economics. Yet they became rich - as they never could by wealth creation - on the back of EU taxpayers. Tasked with investigating whistle blowing by the EU's Chief Accountant, Neil fired the whistleblower. It's shocking if you believe politicians when they claim to have a vocation for public service. It's perfectly understandable from their selfish point of view. And though the Kinnocks are a good example, there are versions of them from all the EU countries.

So the EU's political class has "form", one might say, and we should not be surprised if they abuse their power in defence of their seat on the gravy train by directing EU budget towards political propaganda that should be financed by their parties, not taxpayers.

If I were more cynical, I would not be shocked by the EU's civil servants getting involved. After all, they have something of a conflict of interest too. The pretence of their impartiality will not stand long in the face of any danger to their privileged existence. We must expect the British mandarins in Brussels who would actually lose their jobs if Britain leaves the EU to be the most aggressive trolls.

UKIP's deputy leader is even more naive than me, it seems. He observed that:
Spending over a million pounds for EU public servants to become Twitter trolls in office hours is wasteful and truly ridiculous
Only if you look at it from the point of of EU citizens, Mr Nuttall - the one point of view that is never consideed. From theirs, there could be no more effective and important expenditure.

Tom's US Tour 2013 - the final route plan

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 15.11.55
I have spent almost two weeks planning my route. Over the weekend I took some hard decisions to get the trip down to a manageable 13,000 miles; thus (I hope) avoiding the need for new tyres and a service en route. It means skipping sections I had looked forward to - like driving to Key West, but includes most of the Great River Road and other highlights.

The Google Maps route-planning feature proved a bit flaky. The way points drift around unpredictably when saved. So I have used an American route-planning tool, MapQuest. It was just as easy to use and, unlike Google's offering, retained the mileage for each leg when saved. It calculates the route as almost 500 miles longer than Google Maps did. Time will tell which is right. The links below will launch MapQuest at the relevant section.

Section 1: Livingston NJ to Hannibal MO (3015.42 miles)

Section 2: Hannibal MO to New Orleans LA (1003.63 miles)

Section 3: New Orleans LA to Birmingham AL (via Vancouver - 7746.43 miles)

Section 4: Birmingham AL to Livingston NJ (1744.90 miles)

That makes a total of 13,511 miles, which at Speranza's quoted mpg is about 900 gallons (US) of fuel. That means stopping at 45 or more gas stations.

I have been told this is the "wildest recreational driving plan" ever seen. A fellow-Ferrari owner fears I will "ruin" my car. Maybe, but I prefer to hope she will fulfil her destiny as a high-performance Grand Tourer.

Enzo Ferrari, I think, would approve.

To permit is not to condone

I saw a woman in full hijab on the platform at my local Underground station. It's a common sight in my neighbourhood. As a libertarian, I respected her right to dress as she likes. It does no demonstrable or significant harm to others, so it's entirely her business. It's certainly none of mine. If she is under family pressure to do so then, unless and until that involves violence, that's none of my business either.

That's all very simple, politically, but we libertarians often leave the impression that there's nothing more to be said. Or, worse, that we simply don't care. This post of mine was a good example - and a friend rightly reprimanded me for saying that I didn't "care" about group marriages, when I would be horrified if a family member or friend entered into one. He said libertarians give themselves a bad name by appearing to be uncaring and amoral, when actually we have as wide a range of ethical scruples as anyone else. All that we really agree upon is that the state should not interfere in matters of individual choice.

He's right and I think our perceived aloofness from morality does our cause great harm. Most people have richly-textured emotional and ethical responses and think odd those who seem not to. So, let me tell the full truth. I respected that woman's right to dress as she did, but I also felt a mixture of pity and contempt. My emotional response was much the same as if I had seen this man walking her on a leash. Nor would my response have differed if convinced that she freely consented. People are entitled to degrade themselves if they wish, so it should certainly be legal. That doesn't make it right.

What Would a Free Society Look Like?

What Would a Free Society Look Like? : The Freeman : Foundation for Economic Education

The linked essay is a good honest summary and highlights our dilemma. The bad guys have a clear, seductive vision of a "better society". We, being either more honest or less delusional, don't. We can point to previous "better societies" that turned out rather worse than their promoters promised; Nazi Germany, the USSR, Cuba, North Korea and so forth. "Ah but", say today's visionaries, "they did not have us to lead them". If the vision is seductive enough (life, without effort; equality, without poverty) and the visionary is neither bald of pate nor crude of expression and manages to keep most of his ugliness on the inside, the people will tend to go for it.

For those who are prepared to apply themselves, some clarity is clearly possible. But this is a democracy and, let's face it, most of our fellow citizens are not applying themselves at all.