Friday, 24 October 2014

Values? The one that really matters is freedom...

Queueing for bread - socialist values in action

This is a pretty typical framing of a left wing values statement - from Julian Dobson:

And that brings us back to values. Do we want a society that turns competitiveness into a totem, blames individuals for social problems and judges success on earnings and rates of return? Or are we looking for something more inclusive and creative, places that recognise the value generated by people’s imagination and relationships and passion for the common good? 

And the typical slightly green, middle-class leftie will feel a little shudder of affirmation through the bones at this statement. Absolutely, our lefty might say, this statement clearly separates the uncaring, individualist from the caring, sharing collectivist. They might add little mutterings about 'trickle down' or 'profits' before smiling again as the high plateau of collaborative, cooperative glory comes into view.

The problem with all this is that it is a delusion, a deliberate self-deception. All this enthusiasts for ending the dark and evil neo-liberal world and ignorant of its central truth - that far more than the state-directed, protectionist systems our caring lefties aspire to create, free market systems are absolutely about inclusion, creativity, passion value generation, imagination and mutual benefit. The secret lies in that magic word 'free' and it is all that freedom that gave us the wealth to ponder such matters as 'values'.

Once the matter of values was something for priests and philosophers. Most ordinary people - and this still stands for a great deal of today's world - were way too busy keeping body and soul together to bother about what it all meant. Then something happened. It wasn't a planned economy, it was a spark of liberty that set us free. And we became free because the trap of subsistence was removed, we could lift our head up from the daily drudge and think about those values, about what we thought the world should be like.

And the match that ignited those flames of freedom wasn't a law, it was capitalism, the liberal enlightenment that opened up trade and allowed business to innovate, to create and to transform - in just a few decades - the entire world.When the likes of Julian Dobson paint free markets in negative terms, when they demonise the idea of choice by talking about competition as a negative, and when they dismiss individual material success as somehow distasteful or exploitative, what these people do is build a mighty man of straw, a grand lie.

This lie is essential to socialism - without that mighty straw man representing capitalism's sins the logic of the left collapses into the terrible reality of a place where people queue for seven hours to buy some flour and some milk. This, rather than sunlit uplands, is the consequence of that focus on the "common good" - for there is no common good other than that determined by the interactions, transactions and exchanges of the people. And the best way to get those mutual benefits isn't through committees, co-operatives and regulations but through free exchanges in a free market. That is why the left must make a demon of liberty because they can't admit that free choice, free exchange and free speech is the best road to a good society, to a place where those values they prattle on about are met for everyone.



Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog as there is often the astonishingly refreshing revelation that you have given us, here. I have attempted to post a photo here, but have been unable to; it is just one of a memory stick, with the caption “Capitalism works. This invention has saved more trees than Greenpeace.” While I have no wish to extol any virtue to Greenp*$$, I think it a salient point: almost all progress that has been made has been entirely because of “Capitalism”. Quite why you cleave to the arch-statist that is your leader does leave me a little flummoxed, but who am I to judge?

Radical Rodent

Anonymous said...

Though I'm of a rather different political inclination to your good self, I very much enjoy reading your blog, and find it a good way of reminding myself that, contrary to what many of those who, like me, are on the left, want to believe, there are many on both left and right who sincerely want to make the world a better place (it was Chris Dillow who first brought me here, but I'm a regular reader now).

I still consider myself to be of 'the left', and these days a member of the middle class, but having grown up on benefits, made use of the opportunities that state education and redistributive taxation policies provided me to get out, I sometimes find the utter ignorance of many bien-pensant lefties about the lives of the poor, and their counterproductive state-led plans for addressing them, absolutely infuriating.