Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Social liberalism

Really bad teaching of political theory – by a confused academic named David Miller

I was browsing a neighbourhood library the other day, and in a hurry picked up a short book entitled Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2003) by an academic known as David Miller.

Its small size (thin, 130 pages) indicates that it might be the kind of book read by a first year university student who wants to grasp key concepts in a hurry. This book had a recommendation by Lord Bhiku Parekh, whom I had read once, long ago (I have a vague recollection that I heard him speak in a seminar organised by Madhu Kishwar in Delhi in around 2004, but I may be wrong). But one thing is now clear. Given he has recommend this trashy book, I will shun Parekh's work henceforth like the plague!

Back to Miller's book. This book has turned out to be so bad I'm not going to finish it. 

The order of presentation of its discussions bothered me a bit. For instance, there was no serious discussion of the theory of national territory and the existence of the state. Instead, it was peppered from the beginning with (well-written!) opinionated rubbish. 

But it soon became clear that this Miller fellow is on a mission to confuse young students of political science by forcing all kinds of socialist nonsense on them without any warning or explanation.

THE NONSENSE OF "SOCIAL GOALS"

For instance, he writes, "the freedom of each person must be restricted to allow everyone to enjoy (external) freedom to the same extent, but beyond that there are many legitimate social goals whose pursuit involves placing limits on what individuals may do."

This was a shocking sentence, sending shivers down my spine. What in heaven's name are these "social goals"? What is society? Who is authorised to establish "social goals" that presumably over-ride our individual sovereignty? No explanation at all. Mr Miller the socialist just moved on as if he had said nothing of importance. What he had done was, of course, to embed a TOTALLY NONSENSICAL concept in the minds of unwary students.

THE STATE'S "RESPONSIBILITY" TO LOOK AFTER US

Another shocking section was this, below. The entire logic of this section is so absurd that I was pulling out my hair as I read it. But my suffering was not yet complete. The worst was yet to come. From this garbled "logic" sprang a most audacious and nonsensical assertion, as you can read for yourself, below: 

"So let's consider some examples in which people cannot do things that they would otherwise choose to do because of the cost. Should we say that once the cost reaches a certain point people are no longer free? This is too simple: compare someone on a modest income who cannot buy a holiday that costs £10,000 with someone on the same income who needs an operation to relieve a painful (though not disabling) condition that is only available privately for £10,000. Why do we say that the second person is not free to have the operation he needs, whereas in the first case we typically use different language – he is free to have the holiday, but he simply cannot afford it, we might say? Why does the language of freedom come naturally in the second case but not the first? Expensive holidays are luxury items whose distribution can reasonably be left to the economic market, where people make choices over how much they earn and how they spend their income. Whether or not the person we are considering could actually have raised £10,000 by working longer hours, changing jobs, or cutting back on other expenditure – that may be in dispute – we know for certain that nobody was under any obligation to provide him with the holiday. In contrast, the state has an obligation to ensure that everyone has access to adequate health care, whether through a public health service or by regulating the health insurance market so that everyone can buy suitable cover. So if someone is left facing a £10,000 bill for an operation that she needs, responsibility for this it lies with the state, which has failed in its obligation. Whether the cost of taking an option is a restriction of freedom depends not just on how big the cost is, but on how the cost arose and whether anyone else can be held responsible for its existence."

"The commonly held view that the more governments do, the less freedom people have, is therefore mistaken."

How on earth did Oxford University Press publish this CRAP!!! And with all this total confusion having been published, this man is allowed to teach! In England!! He should be thrown out from academic portals immediately, to save the brains of English children from turning into mushy blubber. 

DISMISSIVE OF ISAIAH BERLIN

Miller acknowledges the existence of Isaiah Berlin and J.S. Mill but through his  absurdly confused "arguments" (assertions, to be precise), shunts their contributions  aside, as being of no consequence:

About Berlin he says:

"Government can do less directly about the internal aspect of freedom, a person's capacity to make genuine choices among the options open to hei. Tins is sometimes called 'positive liberty' as distinct from the 'negative liberty' of having options that are not blocked by external factors. These two kinds of liberty have been contrasted with each other, as they were by the political philosopher Isaiah Berlin in a famous lecture called Two Concepts of Liberty'. … But I believe it is more fruitful to see them as complementary."  [What!!]

DISMISSIVE OF J.S. MILL

And about J.S. Mill he says:

"The question is whether Mill's principle still makes sense against the background of a welfare state, funded by taxation, that is committed to providing everyone with a minimum level of income, education, health care, and housing. In this context, should people have enforceable social responsibilities both to contribute and to avoid becoming unnecessarily dependent on welfare services?"

This book should NEVER have been published. And once published it should have been publicly shredded. Of course, given that even the fool has a right to preach, I'd tolerate such rubbish had Miller spent his own money to publish it. The fact that Oxford University Press can publish such nonsense shows me clearly why the West is now quickly rushing into oblivion.

After having discovered and followed the path of liberty, and reaped its rewards, the West is being destroyed from within its bowels by its academics who are waging a HUGE leftist, socialist war against freedom. These dangerous academics are brainwashing hapless Western teenagers and destroying the future of the West. Shame on Oxford University Press.

I was fair. I did give this writer a chance to show his thinking capacity, and read nearly 60 pages of his work. But now, totally disgusted with this "academic" I must throw his "book" into the rubbish heap, and classify him as a dangerous enemy of freedom; a social liberal, a welfare statist; a Fabian-type socialist.

This kind of babble has further strengthened my resolve to finish my next book, The Discovery of Freedom

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The 100th anniversary of a great classical liberal – Ronald Reagan

Today is Reagan's 100th birth anniversary, an occasion for ignorant people like me to discover more about this great man. I wasn't aware that Regan was a truly great classical liberal. Today has been a discovery, thanks to Surya (I'll talk about that shortly, below). Reagan was President of USA from 1981-1989, a period when I had joined the IAS and was starting to learn about public policy. Indrajit Barua, a prominent classical liberal from Assam and a good friend, introduced me to Rose and Milton Friedman's The Tyranny of the Status Quo (1984) – he lent me his personal copy, a book that had apparently influenced Reagan. But today I find that even by 1964 – a full TWENTY years prior to that book – Reagan had formed his own very clear views on liberty. Please bear with me while I digress a bit…

What's my excuse for my ignorance about Reagan?

Why did I not know much about Reagan's classical liberal views earlier? What's my excuse? Well, here's one. Below is a 1965 picture of me, in Shillong. This makes it clearer why I don't know too much about Reagan's 1964 speech. Of course, I should have known much more about his work in the 1980s, but I didn't pay too much attention to such things then. I was more involved in learning about computers (I used to work till midnight many days on my office computer in DRDA Dhubri – the first such gadget in a district office in Assam, learning about things like DOS and UNIX), dealing with illegal immigration from Bangladesh as SDO and DC, fighting terrorism as DC in Barpeta, and the lot. My mistake: I should have found time to read a lot more.

Now for the brilliant 1964 speech of Ronald Reagan

Let me thank Surya Sankar for putting out a link to this video on Facebook a few hours ago. With each passing minute, as I watched this video, I was astounded at Reagan's outstanding oratory (!), and even more so with his deep personal understanding of the concept of liberty. This man was truly in the tradition of the great founders of USA. I was reading that the Tea Party movement loves this man even today. Now I can understand why. Do listen to this speech in full! It is brilliant!

Addendum

Distorting Regan's record

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What is justice? (#1)

John Rawls wrote a book, entitled, A Theory of Justice. This is actually quite an amazing phenomenon for Rawls clearly had no clue about even the most fundamental conception of justice. The book missed the concept of justice by a mile, and ended up in total confusion. But that has been typical of all socialists, from the time that Rousseau expanded his conception of liberty into positive liberty space, and created a raggle of confused thinkers across the world who have vigorously DESTROYED LIBERTY and countless millions of lives over the past two centuries.

This is a general problem across the world. Most "educated" people don't understand the basic concept of justice. But without understanding justice, we can only end up promoting evil – even as we imagine we are preaching peace and goodwill.

In particular, social liberals and socialists don't understand the concept of ATTRIBUTION. They can't seem to identify WHO did a particular thing. They can't identify WHO owns something, WHO is responsible. As a result the whole world becomes like a ball of spaghetti in their mind, and they end up with DEEPLY contradictory prescriptions.

Let's start with something that should be obvious to all but the most fanatic Hindutva folk: that destroying property is a crime.

The gang of criminals known as BJP is (or was) headed by Advani. This nautanki, attired in a bow and arrow, went about actively advocating and organising the (a) trespass of property, and (b) breaking down property (Babri Masjid). That is a CRIMINAL action without any redeeming feature. However, Advani, like his many confused socialist/collectivist colleagues, thought that he was ensuring justice!

How so? He was under the DELUSION that since someone (Babur) had destroyed a temple (not owned by Advani –  who was not even born then) 500 years ago so he somehow got the right to set things right by TRESPASSING and BREAKING someone's else's property today. A man with such a feeble mind would not normally be fit to govern a village but he became dangerously close to becoming India's prime minister! Such are the dangers of mobocracy.

But you'll say: "But I never supported BJP, I'm a Congress man." You'll argue that such communal behaviour is below your dignity and that you would never stoop this low.

However, if you are a man from Congress (or a socialist, in general), then you support caste based reservations. But reservations are PRECISELY the same thing: they are a CRIME against innocents! Both are based on the ridiculous idea of "justice of yesterday" – a greater piece of nonsense than which never existed.

Basically if you support reservations, or you support the demolition of the Babri Masjid, you support the same thing: a WRONG and DANGEROUS concept of justice.

So-called "secularist" socialists imagine  they are different to BJP because they don't support demolishing Babri Masjid. But you can't support ANY form of injustice today on the ground that someone ELSE, dead and gone, committed a crime in the past. Unfortunately, that is the typical state of most of India's educated 'elites'. Whether you are a Hindutva fanatic or Congressi socialist, you are simply confused. It is time to wake up!

Let me help you clarify basic concepts

I have explained the concept of justice in BFN, but obviously not many people have read it (or understood it, even if they have read it). So let me try to put out the basic idea of justice over the course of a few simple blog posts. I will extract both from BFN and the draft manuscript DOF. 

I hope that these posts will alleviate (if not eliminate!) the deep and fatal confusion of thought that is prevalent in the minds of socialists/social liberals/collectivists in India. Unless we understand the BASIC concept of justice, we can't possibly understand the meaning of freedom.

Justice is ALWAYS as precise as a mathematical equation.  If you miss out a key variable, or include extraneous variables, you'll fail to understand this basic concept of justice. And after that you'll lead a life of total confusion – and DEEP immorality. You'll end up advocating communalist/socialist/other collectivist ideas. Each of these ideas KILLS. Always kills. 

To begin with I'm publishing this Appendix on accountability, from BFN. Please read this to understand how simple and precise the concept of justice is. Please note the VITAL meaning of attribution for it is the source of ALL understandings of accountability, of all property rights, and of all rewards and punishment. If you can't identify WHO did a particular action, you are FINISHED. You will remain a mental cripple.

Our Accountability (an appendix to Breaking Free of Nehru)

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of society.
James Madison[i]
 
Freedom becomes relevant only in the presence of more than one thinking, and hence responsible, human being. Responsibility is the key to freedom. Persons or animals that exhibit purely instinctive behaviour cannot be free since they cannot careful consider and evaluate the options available to them at each step, and choose, after due deliberation and planning, a course of action that they believe is appropriate. If a person with a chemical imbalance in their brains assaults another person, that person may not be acting freely. Similarly, psychiatrically unstable or intellectually challenged people may not be legally liable for their actions and hence cannot be deemed to be free.
 
The challenge for two or more of such thinking and responsible people cohabiting the universe is for each of them to do what they want to do, while being mindful of the mirror need of others to do what they want to do. The only sustainable way to ensure a reasonable balance among such conflicting demands on freedom is for citizens of a free society to mutually agree to rules for joint living. These rules amount to a ‘Nash equilibrium’,[ii] under which everyone’s liberty is balanced either by arbitrary rules of thumb such as traffic rules, or by precise conditions of justice and accountability. This principle is actually very simple and very ancient: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.
 
As free people we are required to balance the forces of our physical and emotional energy in our interactions with others to make sure that no one else is made worse off by our actions (or inaction). Nothing requires us to go out of the way to help others. We may, of course, choose to do so, but that is not an obligation on us. All freedom calls for is that we must not ever make others worse off – for that would diminish their life, even if by a tiny amount. This accountabilityexistswhether it is enforced by a nominated third party or not. And yes, when we are called upon to rise and receive the just deserts of our actions, we cannot plead ignorance of the ‘law’ or of our mutually agreed rules as an excuse.
 
The exercise of our freedom thus requires us to carefully consider the consequences of our actions on others. At most times our actions are likely to be perceived differently by different observers, and therefore they will have differential impacts or consequences. We are obliged to be aware of these differential impacts, and to take steps to minimize potential misunderstandings arising from our actions. There is a natural limit or check in place, of course. Were we to hurt others, we know that a retributory cycle could be precipitated, for then these others may attempt to diminish our life similarly. So we are naturally careful not to hurt others even if there is no external government to enforce such accountability.
 
Accountability implicitly includes attribution,which isthe recognition or acknowledgement of the ownership of consequences. Attribution is the arrow that unerringly points to the relevant actor. For example, who is it that is responsible for a particular consequence? Who is it that has won a race? Who is it that owns this piece of land or that, or this piece of bread? We have a firm belief that the runner that runs the fastest should be declared its winner. When the deserts of our actions are not attributed precisely, and outcomes are determined by bias or by chance, we have a sense of disquiet; we object to the diminution of justice that it entails. Such simple and obvious things constitute the net import of freedom, which is, in the end, a very trivial and ordinary concept. But nothing is more important than this simple concept.
 
I am calling this package, namely, the combination of our free choice and its natural accountability, including its matching attribution, the loop of accountability. I have also used this phrase in a few places in this book. This concept is best illustrated in the diagram that follows. Further, the Yin-Yang symbol in the beginning of this book can also represent the same concept.
Accountability is the detailed and precise account of our actions. The word ‘accounts’ is used here in its most generic sense, including:
  • whether an action was called for and appropriate, namely, the existence and level of responsibility;
  • whether the action was duly carried out, i.e. the level of an action or inaction;
  • what were its consequences; and
  • to whom did the consequences apply, namely, the attribution and precise debiting or crediting of outcomes.
The keeping and settling of accounts is also known as justice.
 
Let me illustrate with a very simple example. Let’s assume that I walk into a grocery shop and ask for bread from the grocer. The grocer hands me a loaf of bread. I pay the grocer and take the bread. That marks the end of a transaction where the loop of accountability has ‘closed’. There is no outstanding ‘residue’ left.
 
What has happened here? We observe that, being responsible for myself and my family’s sustenance, I have freely,and of my own volition, stepped into the shop that belongs to someone else. I have then chosen to perform two further actions – first, to ask for bread, and, second, to receive the bread. Having done that, I have become instantaneously accountable for these actions. I must therefore necessarily perform the next action, namely, to settle the account and pay for the bread. I therefore pay for the bread. Note that exactly at the moment when I finish handing over the money, the ownership of the bread has changed. The bread as well as what I do with it is now attributed to me. The use of the bread is now in my sole discretion. This attribution applies even though the grocer did not write my name on the bread, nor did I register my ownership of the bread with the government.
 
This simple transaction illustrates the concept of freedom in its entirety. Our free actions are always accompanied by an expectation that we close the loop of accountability which is immediately and always generated. No residue should remain. This accounting is as precise as a mathematical equality. Indeed, most of our transactions in a free society are seamless, and the loop of accountability is duly closed. We note that if no one ever violated the loop of accountability, we would never need a government. That would be paradise.
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Why social justice is a meaningless concept

It appears that the Armchair Guy, one of the otherwise balanced and intelligent commentators on this blog seems to have been brainwashed by Indian leftists to such an extent that he is no longer able to identify the fundamental concepts of freedom and justice.

Let me therefore extract some references to the idea of “social justice” from BFN for his benefit.
 
At least two full generations have been brainwashed by leftists in India. Their logical and moral sense has been destroyed. When one's mind has been sealed with all kinds of delusions, it is virtually impossible to use reason. That is how many religions function, and that is how socialism functions. 
 
But if  people like AG are seriously interested in India’s welfare (which at times I feel they are, at least sub-consciously), they ought to TRY to learn something different to what has been forced on them since childhood. Trying to read Hayek might help, or BFN/DOF. I can't guarantee that the socialist disease can be cured, but they could try. 
 
Nehru's godchildren are well and alive even today. If our educated classes keep speaking this deeply socialist language, then India will continue to get what it deserves: its third world status, with MILLIONS of innocent children dying every year like flies, and old people eating feces – while a few highly corrupted people build billion dollar properties and store tens of billions in Swiss bank accounts.
 

EXTRACTS

Our Constitution doesn’t have a uniting theme, a theme to focus each of its words towards the advancement of our freedoms. The ideas of freedom of expression, property rights and habeas corpus haplessly mingle with ideas that oppose freedom. It dabbles with a number of second order, even tertiary and mutually incompatible, ideas – things like social justice, socialism, casteism, tribalism, policy whims and directives, etc. All kinds of strange animals find a place in our Constitution, as if in a menagerie. It is a veritable khichri with small irritating pebbles that crack our teeth as we start ‘eating’ it. Some of these pebbles, like socialism or social justice, are poisonous and have actually caused us endless grief. We need to spit them out. It is definitely not a simple and therefore well-made khichri,flavoured only with the deeply satisfying aroma of pure freedom, like pure ghee melting all over it.
 
Most unfortunately, though, the Preamble distorts liberty itself by talking of a completely indefensible and vacuous thing called ‘social’ and ‘economic’ justice. But social justice is a totally meaningless term (even assuming that economic justice merely represents justice in commercial undertakings). Justice is always individual, not collective or social. ‘Social justice’ is not based on consistent logic. Indeed, this phrase has a deeply socialist origin, and has laid the seeds of terrible corruption and continued poverty in India. Most bad policies in India have been justified by the pursuit of social justice, even as we did practically nothing to ensure equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity requires the eradication of poverty and educating of all our children. None of that happened because people got distracted by the whimsical ‘social justice’.
 
Related Concepts: Social Freedom and Social Justice
Related very closely to this barbaric concept are the concepts of social freedom and social justice. These are one and the same thing, noting that freedom and justice are always two sides of the same coin. Within the Indian system of governance, both these concepts are totally flawed and based on the barbaric concept of the ‘justice of yesterday’. Carrying on his crusade to confound the concept of justice, Nehru said that the ‘concept of individual freedom has to be balanced with social freedom […] and the relations of the individual with the social group’.[i]
 
            But what can this mysterious concept of social freedom possibly mean? It sounds very much like a collectivizedversion of freedom. If so, just as individual freedom has its matching individual accountability, social freedom must have its matching social accountability. The nearest thing to social accountability, however, seems to be the concept of ‘collective punishment’ – a very deeply troubling concept. I recall it being mentioned during my training as a civil servant in 1982–4 that collective punishment was practised by some officers in British India. Under this model of ‘justice’, all men in a village were punished for the crime committed by one of them. But if we did not consider such practices to be just under British India, how could our Prime Minister in independent India possibly advocate this?
In 1982, someone tried to assassinate Saddam Hussein as his convey entered a village 60 km north of Baghdad. In response, Saddam got 148 innocent people from that village executed. That is collective punishment – social accountability, a dastardly and cowardly attack on the very fundamental concept of justice. Fortunately, we don’t condone collective punishment, even if our leaders do not understand what justice means.
 
            In sum, social freedom, social justice and the ‘justice of yesterday’ are not only concepts without logical content, but are extremely dangerous ideas; we must reject them all and throw them into the ocean.If anyone uses these arguments, we should challenge that person to logically derive any sensible and consistent implication of these concepts.
 
* * *
            I suspect that what Nehru really had in his mind while advocating social justice and social freedom was his concern about two things. He wanted an end to feudalism and an end to inequality of status, particularly caste inequality. But there are eminently sensible ways to solve these problems without confounding the concept of justice.


[i] Nehru, cited in Austin, Granville, op. cit., p.655.

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