Monday, 3 December 2007

Power Grab

The link between environmental scaremongering and support for statism bordering on the totalitarian has hardly gone un-noticed, but rarely has the power grab been advocated so openly as in a comment article printed in today's Guardian1.

The article, entitled 'Eat, drink and be miserable: The true cost of our addiction to shopping' starts blandly enough with a typical environmentalist's lament, followed by a segment of anti-consumerism. The sting is in the tail - specifically, the final paragraph:

"...In the early 1940s, a dramatic drop in household consumption was achieved - not by relying on the good intentions of individuals...but by the government orchestrating a massive propaganda exercise combined with a rationing system and a luxury tax. This will be the stuff of 21st-century politics - something that, right now, all of the main political parties are much too scared to admit." - Madeleine Bunting
There it is. Bunting (a regular columnist in the Guardian, the newspaper beloved of the public sector above all others) has implied that we should have "rationing", and to get us to accept it there should be "massive propaganda".

They know best. Individuals in British society cannot make our own decisions about how much to buy (not to mention how much to eat2, how much to drink3, whether or not to smoke4). No-one is actually capable of making any informed decisions in this country. So the Government has to make our minds up for us. And if that means brainwashing people with alarmist bullshit, so much the better.

I know, I know. I said5 I wouldn't use this blog to rant and swear. But this shit is dangerous. It's hardly likely that people would vote for austerity were the idea of introducing rationing put to the vote in a national referendum. Furthermore, it is likely that, in a democracy, any party that imposed such measures as Bunting suggests would be voted out at the soonest possible opportunity. Therefore it is not unreasonable to interpret this and arguments like it as a brazen call for the overturning of same - i.e. for totalitarianism.

Fortunately, aside from being dismayed by Bunting today, I read at PJC Journal that a new political party has just been set up - the Libertarian Party6. On this sort of evidence, despite some of the policy I consider it to be a very timely development.
"The current 'state must run everything' mentality will be put to rest. The corruption within politics will be rooted out, and those guilty of abusing their positions of power will be brought to book." - From the Libertarian Party press release, reproduced at PJC Journal6

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2220838,00.html
2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2220572,00.html
3. http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/emily_hill/2007/10/drink_drivel.html
4. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/consultations/story/0,,1549508,00.html
5. http://questionthat.me.uk/2007/10/hello-welcome.html
6. http://thejournal.parker-joseph.co.uk/blog/_archives/2007/12/1/3385439.html

5 comments:

ActonHighStreet said...

With all due respect Ian, and without wishing to descend to the sort of unpleasant arguments that have always put me off the blogging "scene", this post of yours is not very good at all, in my humble opinion.

Your initial argument, that Ms. Bunting is actually [i]advocating [/i] a return to wartime-style rationing is a bit silly at best and a willful misunderstanding at worst. Even Stalinists rarely describe their own proposals as "propaganda campaigns":-)

Your further conclusion, that as Ms. Bunting is "advocating" a policy that would be massively unpopular with a democratic electorate, then ergo she is advocating an end to democracy, is quite frankly beneath a man of your intelligence.

Presumably other advocates of ideas that were unpopular at the time, like, let me see, Martin Luther King for example, were also arguing for the overthrow of democracy? :-)

Or maybe your loathing of "State Interference" has led you to misrepresent this woman's argument and then drag this misunderstanding out to a ridiculous, illogical conclusion in order to make your own political point?

Anyway, it's about time we had another record review.

QT said...

The deleted comment above is a duplicate post

Your reading of this article is extremely generous and other than by very selective reading (in particular, ignoring the last paragraph, which one would expect would contain the crux of a structured argument) can I possibly come to the same conclusion as you have.

"Your initial argument, that Ms. Bunting is actually [i]advocating [/i] a return to wartime-style rationing is a bit silly at best and a willful misunderstanding at worst. Even Stalinists rarely describe their own proposals as "propaganda campaigns":-)"
Because almost all of the article is dedicated to attacking the status quo and only the last three paragraphs actually make any suggestions, it's not entirely clear what she is advocating. What she's aiming for, it seems from the third-last paragraph, is a "transition to a low-consumption economy". The subject of how that could be achieved is not broached until the final paragraph, which is the one I quoted which talks about wartime rationing. My interpretation isn't just a reasonable one, it is the only reasonable one - as the subeditor's choice of subheading attests.

"Your further conclusion, that as Ms. Bunting is "advocating" a policy that would be massively unpopular with a democratic electorate, then ergo she is advocating an end to democracy, is quite frankly beneath a man of your intelligence."
Just how do you propose that a Government instituting a rationing system and a luxury tax would last beyond one term other than by ending democracy? Like I said, I don't think it takes a political prophet to predict what the result of the next free election following the introduction of such a policy would be. For such a Government action to succeed in its aims would therefore require the normal democratic cycle to be suspended. Do you seriously think, absent severe external pressures such as a World War, people would just adapt to and accept these sort of imposed restrictions without major dissent?

"Presumably other advocates of ideas that were unpopular at the time, like, let me see, Martin Luther King for example, were also arguing for the overthrow of democracy? :-)"
See above - There's nothing more other than dismay that I can add in response to this (or the last section of your post). I have not misunderstood the article and the conclusion I come to is based on a critical consideration of what I anticipate the consequences of the State actions suggested in the last paragraph of Bunting's article would be.

ActonHighStreet said...

Well Ian, what can I say?

I'm sorry for leaving you in "dismay"-as you know, I'm not quite attuned to the exact level of confrontation required on this sort of thing.

I can only restate my point, which is that the idea that Madeleine Bunting is advocating the State attempting to re-introduce wartime rationing in our globalised economy seems to me to be a pretty bloody big leap based on the wording of her article.

When you go on to state that:

Just how do you propose that a Government instituting a rationing system and a luxury tax would last beyond one term other than by ending democracy? Like I said, I don't think it takes a political prophet to predict what the result of the next free election following the introduction of such a policy would be. For such a Government action to succeed in its aims would therefore require the normal democratic cycle to be suspended. Do you seriously think, absent severe external pressures such as a World War, people would just adapt to and accept these sort of imposed restrictions without major dissent?

then you've already lost me at your first assumption. As libertarians, we see the overarching arm of State and Capital interfering unduly and unjustifiably in our lives at every turn, for sure, but looking for threats to our liberty where they don't exist might make us feel better by letting off some steam, but are not going to advance our cause at all, are they?

You've made intelligent points, on the blog and in the "real world" on these sorts of issues, many times and I know that you've got a very amusing post planned on an issue we definitely agree on and I look forward to reading it.

Finally, let me leave you with some inspiring words from one young libertarian to another. I'm not sure why this quote just popped into my head, but it did:

The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without Authority, there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power…There can be only one permanent revolution - a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.

Cheers mate!

QT said...

OK then.

If it had been unequivocally clear that she was advocating a return to war-time rationing, would you dispute the rest of my post?

QT said...

AHS:

If you are still reading this, the last sentence of the first paragraph of today's Jonathan Freedland column on CiF may be of interest.