I spent today at this seminar co-hosted by the Ayn Rand Institute and the Ayn Rand Centre UK. I am not myself an objectivist but the speakers and the subjects were appealing. It was an interesting afternoon beginning with Yaron Brook’s presentation on the long-standing historic links between anti-capitalism and anti-semitism, going all the way back to Marx himself.
There followed a panel session on The Nanny State: Could Labour Outdo the Tories? featuring Douglas Carswell, Chris Snowdon, Lucy Harris and the indefatigable Dr Brook (who contributed at length to every session except the last).
Chris Snowden said he wished, as someone who opposed both Socialism and the Nanny State, that he could simply link the two. He then presented a sadly convincing case that, whatever other damage a Labour government might do, it was unlikely to be worse than the “Conservatives” in terms of interfering in our personal lifestyle and health choices. There is even a chance that it may be genuinely more liberal on the issue of soft drugs.
Lucy Harris, MEP for The Brexit Party and founder of Leavers of Britain said that to call the phenomenon "Nanny" statism is too kind. It’s not a nanny it’s a boss. Dr Brook said that the world needed bosses and that such people are actually tyrants. Lucy thought that the real problem in both the EU and the UK in this respect is Quangoism. I think she's right. Far too many nanny staters are not driven by genuine concern for our welfare. They are rent-seekers making a good living from creating jobs for themselves telling us all how to live. Lucy said she regularly re-reads Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier, which perfectly sums up the attitude – veering between "sniggering superiority" and contempt – of middle class socialists for the working people they profess to serve. I confess I haven't read that since my schooldays. I must do so again!
Douglas Carswell was the most optimistic member of the panel. He believes that Brexit has been a game changer in that voters will never take our incompetent rulers seriously again. He thinks social media has also made it permanently impossible for them to set the national agenda and steer debate as they always have. I think he underestimates the kind of sociopath attracted to the political life, but I hope I am wrong.
The next panel was called Can We Disagree? Cultural and Legal attacks on Diversity of Speech and the speakers were Toby Young, Yaron Brook, young Twitter sensation, Soutiam Goodarzi — @Soutiam21 — and Dr Brook again.
Toby Young spoke of a friend's experience in appearing on the BBC's "Question Time" show in Birmingham at the time Muslim parents were protesting outside a school about the "sex education" programme which contradicted their conservative beliefs. An audience member had asked the panelists simply to state whether they sided with the parents or the school authorities. All but his friend said emphatically they sided with the school. At dinner afterwards, all admitted to his friend that they did sympathise with the parents but had been afraid to say so for fear of being "monstered" by the "woke" lobby. He also spoke about the dishonest way in which the "no platform" types allege the risk of physical harm (e.g. "hate crimes") and psychological harm from mere speech. He pointed out that the much-bruited claims of a rise in hate crimes after the Brexit Referendum didn't show up in the statistics and that there was simply no evidence of psychological harm from speech.
He is planning to launch a Free Speech Union to support students, academics and others facing sanctions for speech and invited anyone interested in helping out in its formation to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Brook said that successive governments have failed in their key duty to protect free speech against violence. The problem began with Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses. Governments did nothing to defend him. Then no newspaper in the US was prepared to publish the Mohammed cartoons from a Danish newspaper that triggered Islamist violence. He didn't blame the press because it was very clear the US Government wouldn’t defend them against the violent reactions they very reasonably feared. The current US Government, for all its bluster, won’t defend people against antifa violence either. He described the "woke" extremists against free speech as having a "Pre-enlightenment attitude". In those days the medieval church defined the range of acceptable truths that could be discussed. Now it is leftist academics who define it, but the outcome is the same.
All panelists agreed that it was necessary to fight back if freedom of speech is not to be lost. Soutiam’s youthful confidence was remarkable. She says the behaviour of Britain's university authorities in relation to suppression of free speech is more dangerous that that of government but she’s prepared to take them on. I am not sure if she's fearless or naive and I hope her prospects are not damaged by her courage. I weighed in during Q&A with a couple of examples from my own experience of just how lost Britain's universities are to liberty.
The final session was on People and Profits: Who Would Benefit From the End of the City? The speakers were George Grigoropoulos and Andrew Boff. George pointed out that Conservatives have, since Thatcher (whose tenure he described as “a blip in the history of regulation”) been responsible for a massive increase in financial sector regulation. Labour is not blameless but has not been historically any worse.
He said the only real difference has been in “the intensity of application of the same principles and assumptions” —namely, that risk can be regulated away (it can’t) and that regulators are inherently wise (they're not). He pointed out that it takes 200 full time employees per bank to comply just with the Basel III regime. For the whole EU that’s over 75,000 expensive staff taken out of production to collect and submit data to regulators he doubts are even capable of analysing it. He highlighted the moral jeopardy inherent in such detailed risk management regimes. Instead of actually assessing risk, banks are “ticking regulatory boxes”. When (inevitably) some unforeseen risk causes a crisis, they will line up to be bailed out, saying “we did what you said this isn’t our fault”.
Andrew’s presentation was more party political. He accepted that his party’s Theresa May had been the worst PM in living memory but said Corbyn and McDonnell were “lost to reason” and would make her seem good by comparison.
It’s always good to be reminded that the routine idiocies of our political class are neither unnoticed nor unopposed. The rest of the audience members were mostly very young reminding me that, despite what one hears, not all our young people are submissive to the busybody state.