Tuesday, 23 October 2007

George Monbiot vs Matt Ridley

'George Monbiot: Libertarians are the true social parasites' ran the teaser on the front page of today's Guardian.

This is going to ignite some debate in the 'blogosphere', numerous as its self-described libertarians and classical liberals are, thought I.

The column1 turned out not to be the kind of blanket condemnation of the anti-authoritarian, pro-individual liberty lobby I feared it might be. Instead, Monbiot concentrated on the attitudes of some capitalists, in particular the evolutionary biologist turned bank director Matt Ridley2. Specifically, that the less Government interference in the activities of business the better.

Ridley's article for science & philosophy website edge.org3 in response to the 2006 question 'What Is Your Dangerous Idea?' was entitled 'Government Is The Problem Not The Solution', and contends that

"In every [historical] case, weak or decentralised government, but strong free trade led to surges in prosperity for all, whereas strong, central government led to parasitic, tax-fed officialdom, a stifling of innovation, relative economic decline and usually war."

The coda to this story, of course, is the British Government's bailing out of Ridley's Northern Rock4 after they lent out more money in mortgages, including to people with poor credit histories, than they could afford to lend - Overall, the saga serves as an object lesson in the limitations of the self-serving market libertarian* worldview.

"We must ensure that the state is also treated like a member of the hominid clan and punished when it acts against the common good. Human welfare, just as it was a million years ago, is guaranteed only by mutual scrutiny and regulation."

This is not to say that governments are somehow made up of better men and women than is the average board of directors. I could point to a dozen or more examples to illustrate that this is apparently not the case. The personal qualities that are required to become a high-ranking politician are hardly compatible with honesty and integrity. But what a functioning government provides is regulation and accountability.


1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2197247,00.html
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Ridley
3. http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_11.html (second essay from the top)
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/6994099.stm


* In contrast to the libertarian socialist or anarchist positions, advocates of which may also use the term 'libertarian' to describe their worldviews - and in fact can reasonably contend that they were first to it!

2 comments:

Stephenfromacton said...

"In contrast to the libertarian socialist or anarchist positions, advocates of which may also use the term 'libertarian' to describe their worldviews - and in fact can reasonably contend that they were first to it!"

:thumbsup: I saw the Monbiot header on the front of the paper in the morning and guessed you'd be the first to post on CiF. Some interesting stuff on here already-it's nice to be the first person to comment.

So where's that Husker Du article? :-)

QT said...

Thanks for the comment :-) The review will be coming up on here soon so watch this space!