Wednesday, 30 January 2013

No. No! NO! (for @davechiv1)

Far be it from me to want to cause dissent with the ranks of libertarianism, but I have to pick a fight with this:

States are motivated less by values and ideals, and more by a narrow set of objectives and interests.

Really, this is where the argument fails, in a nutshell. The implicit assumption here is that the objectives and interests of the state are the objectives and interests of the people that the state leeches off. But this is inherently wrong, because if that were the case, there would be no such thing as libertarianism or anarchism.

There are some more basic fallacies here:

Once you acknowledge what motivates a country’s actions, international relations become comparatively predictable. It is a zero sum game of medium to long term power and influence

To paraphrase Maggie, there is no such thing as a country. What motivates the state that defines the foreign policy is different to the wants of the people that are subjugated by the state.

Furthermore, I would contest that interaction is always a zero sum game. It may be that there are narrow markets of influence where there is a zero sum game to be played, but I am not even sure of that.

Influence and intervention takes many forms. The British government has excellent ties to the government of Saudi Arabia. As a result of this, the Saudi government places orders with British companies to manufacture military equipment, as well as legacy contracts for spare parts and maintenance. Does this relationship sometimes get too close? Probably. But do British jobs depend on it? Absolutely.

Ah, the good old British job. You could quite reasonably argue that we should have a massive state surveillance system because it keeps people in jobs. We should have patrolled curfews because it keeps people in jobs and crimes off the street. We should be encouraging repressive regimes to brutally repress their citizens using our weapons and technology, because it keeps British people in jobs.

The British job, damn, isn't that a wonderful thing? More important than anything else in the world!

Another example is foodstuffs. Successive British governments, via a variety of means (both fair and foul) have secured trade agreements with African states. Our farmers are free to export subsided food to Africa, but African food sold here face tariffs, making it more expensive. So British farmer benefit from a secure market at home, and a valuable market overseas. Is this practice fair? No. Do British jobs and companies depend on it? Absolutely.

This is a facepalm-level Economics 101 failure: British farmers benefit, but what about the rest of us? There are roughly 500,000 farmers and farmworkers and 60,000,000 people in Britain. So the farmers "benefit" but 120 times as many people (many of them desperately poor) pay over the odds for food that could be cheaper if the British government wasn't working "in the national interest".

I'm sorry, there may be arguments in favour of an interventionist foreign policy, but nothing in this blogpost stands up to even basic scrutiny.

13 comments:

Simon Cooke said...

The word for this sort of Libertarian is "Conservative"

Lee Jenkins said...

-I never claimed the interests of the State are the same as those of its people. States are an entity in and of themselves. We just gain some benefits from them (i.e businesses get access to world markets, citizens get access to cheap food and clothes etc)

There is no such thing as a country?
Riiiight not sure what alternate universe you are living in but there very much are such things as countries...that's why we have different laws, why we have passports, why licenses and permits are required for trade.

Your point on the British job was childish. You took a sensible point then extrapolated it to a ludicrous extreme. Jobs are a factor in foreign policy decision making, whether or not you agree with that is irrelevant.

-A comparativly small number of farmers benefit and the rest of us. That's correct. Is it fair? No. Does it make sense? No. Is it reality? Yes.

And that final point is really what it all boils down too. Too many libertarians have their heads so far up their own ideological back-side that they can't see how the world works.
The Common Agricultural Policy makes no economic sense, yet it is a central pillar of French foreign policy.

The fact is, the people who actually plan and impliment foreign policy agree with me, to a greater or lesser extent. The only people who agree with you are very clever but very blinkered ideologues.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"We just gain some benefits from them (i.e businesses get access to world markets, citizens get access to cheap food and clothes etc)"

Even though you realise that trade tariffs push up the price for consumers, you STILL make this argument?

"there very much are such things as countries...that's why we have different laws, why we have passports, why licenses and permits are required for trade"

Er, no. We have those things because there are states that impose the laws and require the passports and demand that we have those licenses and permits. Without the state, none of those things would be needed.

"Your point on the British job was childish. You took a sensible point then extrapolated it to a ludicrous extreme."

You seem to think that any British job is worth any cost to someone else. You also make the mistake of thinking that a British job is worth having to the detriment of British consumers.

"And that final point is really what it all boils down too. Too many libertarians have their heads so far up their own ideological back-side that they can't see how the world works."

I can see perfectly well how the world works, thank you. Just because I don't think British jobs are worth the repression of Saudi women doesn't mean I have my head up my arse, it just means that I have still got some principles.

"he fact is, the people who actually plan and impliment foreign policy agree with me, to a greater or lesser extent"

You're using the way foreign policy currently works as a reason for foreign policy to work the way it currently works. That is a logical fallacy. It's like saying the sky should be blue, because it's blue.

Lee Jenkins said...

First point on trade:
As I said, the trade elements of foreign policy don't have to add up to become foreign policy. British farmers have successfully lobbied for certain policies to be implemented, even if it is to the detriment of consumers. That's how lobbying works. It's the same for defence companies, car makers or anything else. Your argument seems to be that 'if it doesn't make economic sense, then it shouldn't be policy'. Well let me know when you can stop the practice of lobbying, and I'll be right on board with you. Until then, the point it mute.

"Without the state, rah rah rah"
Again, when you've waved a magic wand and convinced 193 states to voluntarily dissolve themselves, get back to me. Until then, I'll carry on in the real world

I have never claimed a British job is worth any cost. I am saying it is simply one of many many factors that go into the formulation of real policy. British consumers are also a factor. Sometimes jobs will take precidence, sometimes consumers. Depends on the policy.

Principles and morality have nothing to do with international relations.
"Saudi women getting oppressed." Well boo-hoo, cry me a river. I could not care less. It doesn't effect me or my loved ones, and its therefore irrelevant.

Foreign policy happens the way it does because, by its very nature, it involves interactions with other players. There is a recognised and standardised code of conduct. You want Britain to suddenly drop of out of that system. Well that's fine for a hypothetical debate in the Sixth Form common room, but is not going to happen until the very notion of States disappear.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"Until then, the point it mute."

The point is MOOT. And you're arguing with an anarchist. Lobbying exists because the state is there to lobby. Want to know how to stop lobbying? Get rid of the state.

"Until then, I'll carry on in the real world"

This is a circular argument: because things are as they are, we need to carry on with things as they are.

"Depends on the policy."

Actually, it doesn't, because consumers are generally pretty shit at lobbying. Find me an interventionist policy that benefits consumers, please?

"Principles and morality have nothing to do with international relations.
"Saudi women getting oppressed." Well boo-hoo, cry me a river. I could not care less. It doesn't effect me or my loved ones, and its therefore irrelevant."

7/7. 9/11. Etc, etc.

"not going to happen until the very notion of States disappear."

Yes, exactly. But by arguing that we must carry on with states doing the things that they do because that's how it is, you're hardly arguing for any kind of freedom, are you?

Lee Jenkins said...

Being an anarchist am I right in assuming that you will oppose any action, by any state, under any circunstances?

You have offered no plan or strategy to liquidate all governments so you presumably acknowledge therefore that these states will continue to pursue their own agendas?

An interventionist policy that helps consumers? Depends what you mean by interventionist, but I would stab at the US interveneing in the Korean war, securing South Korea as a western style democracy, which in recent years has become a technology hub for computers, smart phones and cars.

Liberating Kuwait in 91 stopped Saddam and ensured a pro western govt remained in plac providing a stable and thus secure source of oil.

I am not sure why you cited terrorist attack dates. The poverty and oppression that cause people to resort to terror aren't going to go away if we stop dealing with the Saudi govt. For historic reasons we are always going to be seen as a legitimate targets for the nutjobs of the world.

Your last point is a broader one but no less valid. I would claim to be a minarchist at home, yet a moral vaccum on the world stage. I would not say I am an interventionist because my preffered set up is a clutch of compliant regional strongmen (like the Burmese junta or Pinochet) maintaining order and keeping their markets open to all British goods. That way I get access to buy 40pmangos from Asda, and any British firm can hawk them what they want in return.

Andrew S. Mooney said...

"Actually, it doesn't, because consumers are generally pretty shit at lobbying. Find me an interventionist policy that benefits consumers, please?"

Two examples of consumers and government mandating state intervention, that lead to a subsequent massive increase in the quality of products involved Esther Rantzen's campaigns in the 1980's in respect to consumer white goods and children's toys. Many of the cheaper children's toys sold on market stalls were potentially deadly and yet they were often legally defended on the grounds that parents had an element of responsibility when buying them on the grounds of how shoddy many of them looked. The argument ran that capitalism would work it's magic and quality would improve, but in the interim, if your daughter choked to death on mane hairs from some knockoff version of My Little Pony, it was proof that you should have cared more about her when you bought it.

It didn't work, as mass produced sweatshop crap just kept on coming.

Many of the no-name cheapo electrical white goods people were buying back then were at best fire hazards and at worst, instant electrocution risks, and state intervention did work there to ensure circuit breakers and regular workplace electrical testing got introduced. Fire retardant Sofas and nightwear were others...We just forget these things because, frankly, they were sensible and we certainly take it for granted that even kit sold in Wilkinson's and Poundland shouldn't place you at risk of death simply through plugging it in and switching it on.

Or should the Libertarian position of Caveat Emptor have continued as it did?

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Andrew, I would argue that our faith in regulation means that we no longer do any more caveating when we emptor. Hence, we get fucked over every time regulation fails, because we blindly assume that everything is OK.

Nobody *thinks* any more.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"You have offered no plan or strategy to liquidate all governments so you presumably acknowledge therefore that these states will continue to pursue their own agendas?"

Um. I have, and smarter minds than mine have, but this is irrelevant to the discussion. You can still have a non-interventionist state - the US was for centuries and look how rich it became.

Now that the US is intervening all over the world, look how poor it's becoming and look at how much more often it becomes the target of terror.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

"An interventionist policy that helps consumers? Depends what you mean by interventionist, but I would stab at the US interveneing in the Korean war, securing South Korea as a western style democracy, which in recent years has become a technology hub for computers, smart phones and cars."

China.

Martin said...

Great post. You missed a zero, though: 60,000,000/500,000 = 120.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Thank you, Martin!

Andrew S. Mooney said...

Sankaku complex is potentially not to everyone's taste: Caveat Emptor.

Many of these items are actually completely legal, in that the Bento box trick relies upon the idea that you're completely free to lift the package up to see underneath and notice that only half the space is used.

http://www.sankakucomplex.com/2013/02/12/chinese-packaging-sheer-genius/

The DVD player is legal, and the hard drives are probably legal to sell as well as the do work. I do doubt that you're allowed to open one though to see what you're really buying.

“It seems they really do think this sort of thing is clever, and not just in an ironic way. The person being cheated is to blame for being stupid, and if you’re caught you can just cut and run and do the same thing with a new company.”