Tuesday, September 18, 2007

More hypocrisy please

If you support the policy of improving the nutrtional standards of school meals, but eat the occasional turkey twizzler yourself, are you a hypocrite? Or if you support a penny on income tax, for some bizarre off-message reason, but you fail to donate an extra 1% of your income to the treasury, are you a hypocrite? In each case no. The question is deeply confused.

Yet, if you advocate improved energy efficiency standards, but leave your TV on standby; if you advocate better public transport, but drive everywhere; if you support any policy to do something about environmental problems, but don't engage in sufficiently proportionate self-denial, then it seems you are a hypocrite.

When the European Commission announced plans to improve vehicle fuel efficiency, some of the British journalists responded by asking the commissioners what car they drove. That answer - none of your business, what does that have to do with anything - would not be heard from a British politician.

And yet if the commissioners were hypocrites, so are the people who eat turkey twizzlers or fail to donate extra money to the treasury.

We are not, after all, talking about preaching to people. Yes if you preach a 'don't drive' message and drive yourself, that is hypocrisy. But preaching is the job of pressure groups not politiicans. Politicians should do what the people tell them to do and not the other way round. Governments certainly shouldn't be spending taxpayers money preaching at those same taxpayers.

I don't care what my MP or PM eats, drives or how he lights his home, I care what his policies are.

And yet environmental preaching is expected everywhere - it threatens to make prigs of us all.

I suggest that the innapropriate politicisation of enviornmental preachiness is causing considerable damage to the clarity of thought that environmental policy might otherwise enjoy. While not using standby or plastic bags are good suggestions, they would be bad laws. With the preaching in focus inevitably the kinds of policy measures that come to mind are micromanaging. It might be tolerable if so many of the measures didn't have such trivial impacts. And that is before we consider any unintended consequences - if you ban one behaviour people may find an alternative that is even worse. You might ban standby, but the TV can still be left on.

The policies that will make a big difference to the environment don't involve micromanagement: Generate lots of renewable energy, build efficient buildings with amenities within walking distance, make the polluter pay with a simple upstream carbon tax. I will vote for that whatever the candidate drives.

34 comments:

Anthony said...

I don't care what my MP or PM eats, drives or how he lights his home, I care what his policies are.

Out of interest, how would you finish that sentence? Do you care about his policies in as much as they coincide with your preferences, or is it more important that they coincide with the median voter?

In other words, do you want an MP who puts your favourite policy into practice, or one who responds to your constituency as a whole?

Joe Otten said...

Yeah, I vote and argue for the policies that I support.

There's no point voting for policies I am against, is there? If other people support them, they can vote for them.

And certainly there's no point voting for something because you think other people support it. You might be wrong, after all. We could end up with policies that nobody really wants, that way.

Anthony said...

do you want an MP who puts your favourite policy into practice, or one who responds to your constituency as a whole?

Joe Otten said...

No.

It is not about a "favourite" policy, it is a judgement of the whole manifesto.

What sort of "response" to the "constituency as a whole" are you talking about?

Joe Otten said...

Let me put it another way.

Obviously any candidate who responds only to me and ignores the concerns of other voters will not be elected.

But it would both pointless and presumptuous for me to judge whether a candidate is responding adequately to other voters. That is a matter for those other voters to judge.

If you vote on the basis of what you think other people think is important, you are basically handing power to the people who commission opinion polls.

Anthony said...

I apologise, I'm having trouble articulating myself. I'm just curious as to whether you believe MPs should simply respond to the median voter, and enact policy regardless of their own personal beliefs. Or whether they should lead public opinion, and therefore act contrary to what the median voter may wish.

Given that your opinions are different from other members of your constituency, would you be happier with an MP with a tendency to offer your preferred policy platform where possible, or one who automatically and impassionately enacts the median voter's position?

In other words, do you not care about a politicians actions only as long as you agree with his policies? In which case aren't his actions important?

Joe Otten said...

I don't think there is really such a thing as the median voter, and the "constituency as a whole" certainly doesn't speak with a single voice.

So I think elected MPs are entitled to assume that the typical voter at least prefers their policies to those of the other candidates, and act accordingly.

Obviously they have a duty to represent all constituents, however they voted. But the view they will take of that common interest will doubtless be coloured by a partisan perspective.

I'm not sure what you mean by this distinction between policies and actions. A policy is a promise to vote for or against particular kinds of motions in parliament, and these votes are the actions that matter.

Anthony said...

Your basic argument is that it's not hypocritical for a politician act in one way (drive a car) and yet support policies that contradict it (carbon taxes) - right?

When you said that "I don't care what my MP or PM eats, drives or how he lights his home, I care what his policies are." you make a distinction between a politician's actions and his policies.

I find this puzzling because the implication is that politicians should be passionless, automated agents that simply vote in accordance with the preferences of their constituents. In reality politicians have ideological conviction and to some extent act counter to the will of the people they represent, in order to make changes along the contours they define. It seems bizarre that someone who is involved in the political process, is calling for direct democracy rather than representative democracy.

If I could watch BBC Parliament and use my remote control to have 1/[constituency size] of the vote, rather than allowing my elected MP to vote on my behalf - would you support that?

If politicians weren't hypocrites, we wouldn't need them!

Joe Otten said...

OK Anthony I think I see what you're getting at. Two points.

1. What is the contradiction between driving a car and advocating a carbon tax? Is there a contradiction between having a job and advocating income tax? Of course not.

Politicians who support state schools - who want to make them better - are called hypocrites if they send their children elsewhere. Politicians who don't, who presumably think state schools are good enough, can do what they like.

Why? It is absurd. There is no logical connection, and therefore no contradiction in nearly every charge of hypocrisy.

2. You are suggesting that in order to be passionate about a cause, you have to undergo some sort of symbolic ritual in your private life. But why? Can one not be passionate about a cause and yet think that symbolic gestures are pointless?

Can one not support the troops without signing up to fight? Can one not campaign to house the homeless without inviting them all into one's own home? Can one not damn a public service for not being good enough without using it anyway? Can one not support "the family" without having a family or support gay rights without being gay?

It is possible to be consistently passionate about any or all of these causes without any noticeable change in one's private life.

Right?

And I have no idea why you think I was talking about direct democracy.

Anthony said...

"Politicians should do what the people tell them to do..."

Direct democracy because certain possible scenarios (e.g. the remote control example) improves the likelihood that politicians do what the people tell them to do.

But that is an aside, and I wasn't responding to the main content of your post. However, I do think it's hypocritical to coerce others into engaging in activities that you yourself won't do voluntarily.

What is the contradiction between driving a car and advocating a carbon tax? Is there a contradiction between having a job and advocating income tax? Of course not.

The former is a personal decision, the latter a collective one. I don't see how you can define hypocrisy in a way that doesn't apply here - it's having one rule for yourself, and a different rule for others.

"Can one not support the troops without signing up to fight? Can one not campaign to house the homeless without inviting them all into one's own home? Can one not damn a public service for not being good enough without using it anyway? Can one not support "the family" without having a family or support gay rights without being gay?"

These are ridiculous strawmen, and argue different points. But, I'll answer them in turn:

"Can one not support the troops without signing up to fight?
Yes, by paying for them. But if you're not willing to pay for them, but want others to, then I don't see how supportive that really is. In practice, I can see that it "supports" their activities, but in principle it's neither generous not genuinely supportive.

Can one not campaign to house the homeless without inviting them all into one's own home?

Yes, by donating money to homeless charities.

Can one not damn a public service for not being good enough without using it anyway?
Yes, because you're paying for them, you should expect good service.

Can one not support "the family" without having a family or support gay rights without being gay?"
I don't now what this means. What is "the family"? Why should gays have different rights to heterosexuals?

Also, I think we disagree as to what constitutes a "symbolic gesture", and whether they're pointless. I don't think acting in accordance with one's beliefs is necessarily "pointless". If I stop leaving my TV on standby I don't think it's a "pointless" "symbolic gesture".

I think the bottom line here is the difference between expressive and revealed preferences. For me the symbolic gesture is proclaiming support for various activities, without living by those principles.

Joe Otten said...

Anthony, you said

it's having one rule for yourself, and a different rule for others.

Right. So if you support a rule that only applies to other people (eg non-politicians), then that is hypocrisy. Or if you condemn people for doing something you do yourself, that is hypocrisy.

But none of my examples fit that pattern.

However, I do think it's hypocritical to coerce others into engaging in activities that you yourself won't do voluntarily.


OK, this is nearer the mark. But is it hypocritical to argue for one tax or another to rise, without paying the extra yourself voluntarily before the tax rise is introduced?

If the coercion is wrong (as it usually is), it would still be just as wrong even if the supporter of it were willing to do whatever it is themselves. We like this hypocrisy claim, because we can oppose coercion with it. But that doesn't make it an accurate claim.

--

Anyway, if I can show my support for the troops by paying for them, through my taxes, and this counts as support sufficient to acquit me of hypocrisy; doesn't that apply to all other policies. I am willing to pay carbon taxes, once introduced - so I am not a hypocrite for supporting carbon taxes and driving.

--

Actually I like your last point. We want to know if somebody is living by the principles they espouse.

The trouble is that the charge of hypocrisy tends to jump to a conclusion regarding precisely what principle is being espoused.

In general the things I pay taxes for the government to do, are the collective duties of society. None of them need be a personal duty of mine. I believe the state should pay for education and health care out of tax revenue. There is no personal choice I can make regarding my own health and education that is inconsistent with that view of society's duty.

Now while it is a good thing - and, yes, not just symbolic - that many people consider environmental responsibility to be a personal duty, it is plain that not everybody does. This failure should not be used to weaken the prospects for society to do its collective duty, implementing the best policies through the political process. If politicians can't advocate the right policies without having their private lives minutely examined, this may do more harm to the environment than all the good freely done by individuals, put together.

Anthony said...

So if you support a rule that only applies to other people (eg non-politicians),

I think the disagreement lies in the fact that you're making a distinction between politicians and the public, whilst mine is between people with conflicting preferences.

I think your argument is only true under the assumption of unanimity - i.e. that it's a Prisoner's Dilemma and we all have the same objective. If both yourself and myself have a preference for reducing the carbon emissions from our cars, we can use the political process to levy a carbon tax, and that isn't being hypocritical.

The problem arises if we have conflicting preferences. Let's say that I *don't* have a preference for reducing the carbon emissions from my car (and the issue of externalities is irrelevant here), but you successfully introduce a tax that forces me to reduce my carbon footprint. In this case it's not a unanimous policy, and is therefore coercive. You have an option to voluntarily offset your carbon emissions, but instead you choose a process that also forces me to offset mine.

I am not preventing you from acting in accordance with your preferences, but you are preventing me from doing so.

In general the things I pay taxes for the government to do, are the collective duties of society. None of them need be a personal duty of mine. I believe the state should pay for education and health care out of tax revenue. There is no personal choice I can make regarding my own health and education that is inconsistent with that view of society's duty.

So your political beliefs require that I am also bound by them, *and* I must behave in a way that neither yourself nor myself would do voluntarily?

is it hypocritical to argue for one tax or another to rise, without paying the extra yourself voluntarily before the tax rise is introduced?

I'm not sure. I accept that it's not necessarily hypocritical to advocate a rule that you agree to also live by. But there's clearly an asymmetry here - you're not willing to live by the rule voluntarily, even though you have the choice to, whilst you wish to force somebody else to live by it as well.

To be honest though I'm not interested in a semantic debate about the term hypocrisy, but do find your broader point interesting and engaging.

Joe Otten said...

anthony, - I've only just noticed your last comment. OK...

Yes, there is something coercive about all government policies. Ideally, it would be possible for each of us to choose whether or not to limit our carbon emissions, and for only people who didn't to suffer the consequences of global warming.

But that ain't gonna happen. We have to decide collectively whether to limit emissions or whether to suffer the consequences. (In fact we will decide how much to do of each.)

I don't see how externalities are irrelevant here. They are the whole point. We don't want freeloaders to co-ercively impose global warming on people who aren't responsible for it, do we?

So your political beliefs require that I am also bound by them, *and* I must behave in a way that neither yourself nor myself would do voluntarily?

Nicely twisted. No. You are not bound by my beliefs, but you and I are bound by the law, and at least some laws are legitimate.


The harsh fact is that freedoms conflict and have to be arbitrated between from time to time. A policy on something like carbon emissions can be considered a particular arbitration settlement between particular conflicting freedoms. Until that settlement is agreed, why should I feel bound by it?

Anthony said...

I don't see how externalities are irrelevant here

Because I could have used an alternative example, without externalities, to make the same point. E.g. socialised healthcare

You are not bound by my beliefs

Yes, I am. Your beliefs require my participation. I have a belief about the NHS and you have an alternative belief. We cannot "agree to disagree" because if I tried to leave that conversation you'd put me into prison.

you and I are bound by the law, and at least some laws are legitimate.

And some laws aren't legitimate. Which means that being bound by it is a double edged sword, and we need a clear conceptual device to understand the distinction between legitimate and illigitimate laws. Hayek's distinction between law and legislation is the best I'm aware of.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law,_Legislation_and_Liberty

The harsh fact is that freedoms conflict

Provided you have an adequate theory of rights, I don't agree. And more to the point, the violation of freedom is almost always discernable. Can you provide a few examples of cases that you believe conflict?

Joe Otten said...

Because I could have used an alternative example, without externalities, to make the same point. E.g. socialised healthcare

No. Without externalities, it is a different point.

Yes, I am. Your beliefs require my participation. I have a belief about the NHS and you have an alternative belief. We cannot "agree to disagree" because if I tried to leave that conversation you'd put me into prison.

No, now you're just being silly. I wouldn't imprison anybody for disagreeing with me even if I had the power, which I don't.

If you fail to pay your taxes, of course, the government will put you in prison. And if you go to live in a country that is too dysfunctional to levy taxes, that will probably be almost as bad as being in prison, depending on whether you can hire security, bribe officials to be allowed to do business, etc.

And some laws aren't legitimate. Which means that being bound by it is a double edged sword,

Indeed. Whereas not having functioning a rule of law is single-edged - the bad edge.

we need a clear conceptual device to understand the distinction between legitimate and illigitimate laws

Perhaps. But asserting such a distinction is a political statement - something to be demanded, not simply to be understood.

Provided you have an adequate theory of rights, I don't agree.

Of course I said that freedoms conflict, rather than that rights conflict. Obviously a logical system of rights resolves any conflicts - potentially at the cost of making some claims to freedom or opportunity non-rights.

Elevating property rights above everything else is one way to resolve many such conflicts, but not a particularly good one.

Anthony said...

I wouldn't imprison anybody for disagreeing with me

Does that mean we can "agree to disagree"?

Plus you're building a strawman - this isn't an argument about "taxation", but specific policies. Getting rid of a carbon tax, or privatising an element of the heath service, isn't advocation of lawlessness and anarchy.

Now you seem to be saying that
(i) freedoms conflict, but a system of rights are a way to mediate
(ii) property rights isn't an especially good way to resolve conflict

So what's the better option?

Joe Otten said...

Indeed, advocating any change in the law is not lawlessness. Even advocating lawlessness is not lawlessness.

I'm not sure why you think I suggested otherwise.

I don't suggest that property rights aren't especially good. I think they are essential. However they are not sufficient.

To go back to global warming - this could be seen in terms of a conflict between property rights: my right to use my oil, versus your right not to have your property destroyed (eg land made uninhabitable). But it is difficult for this analysis to produce a resolution that is not at one extreme or the other. We could stamp our feet at this point and insist that one such extreme is right, because anything else diminishes property and is therefore wrong. But this does not address the objection: "Dude, I don't go to your church."

If, on the other hand, we look at the reasons why property rights are so good, we find reasons for other rights too.

It seems to me that to suggest a certain kind of right is "natural" is actually a refusal to argue for it.

Anthony said...

I'm not sure why you think I suggested otherwise

Because you brought in the issue of moving to a country too dysfunctional to levy taxes. I'm saying that my objections to various policies does not imply that we'd have a situation similar to Somalia.

"Dude, I don't go to your church."

Which is why we need to make a distinction between those who seek to impose their preferences on others, versus those who accept social diversity and look for institutional means to live peacefully. I don't require you to go to my church - Goodison Park, but you require me to go to yours - Westminster.

It seems to me that to suggest a certain kind of right is "natural" is actually a refusal to argue for it.

Who said anything about natural rights?

p.s. I'm aware we've gone *way* off topic here, so I wouldn't be offended in the slightest if your marginal benefit from this debate becomes negative, and you wish to move on.

Joe Otten said...

Yes, none of these arguments are terribly original.

I do think anarchists, left and right, tend to have a view of natural rights, although they may disagree, right with left, on what these rights are.

I tend to take the view that such natural rights are pretty worthless without a rule of law to protect them, and the only kind of government with much interest in protecting rights is a democratic one.

I am not forcing you to Westminster, but I suggest it is your best chance to protect the rights you care about - by imposing the corresponding duties on others.

This doesn't mean either of us need like much of what a government does. But to question the legitimacy of a democratic process in arbitrating conflicting claims to rights, is to invite something much worse.

Anthony said...

the only kind of government with much interest in protecting rights is a democratic one

Is that an empirical claim or a theoretical one?

to question the legitimacy of a democratic process

sorry, I didn't meant to question your religious beliefs...

Joe Otten said...

Empirical. Although it is not hard to predict theoretically: that governments that can't be removed by the people peacefully, are more likely to abuse those people.


And you are mocking democracy now, as if you had something better up your sleeve. As if.

Anthony said...

No, I'm just challenging your fundamentalist attitude that any pragmatism towards democratic institutions attacks the sanctity of democracy itself. I see democracy as a means to an end, in which case there's all manner of alternative systems that can be investigated - direct forms vs indirect; vote saving; alterations of the franchise; movements towards markets; term limits; referendums; PR etc etc etc

Joe Otten said...

Of course there are different ways that democracy can work, some better than others. Of course it is right to discuss these things.

But you're back-pedalling now. Your language was hostile to the idea of democracy. Why is it that right-wing libertarians, despite having very little in common with fascists, often express a contempt for democracy that if widely shared, would in practise lead to fascism? This is a genuine question.

Anthony said...

Why is it that right-wing libertarians, ... , often express a contempt for democracy that if widely shared, would in practise lead to fascism?

You're going to have to explain that causal link because it makes no sense at all. How can you have fascism without a state?

Also, you seem to think voting is the only way to prevent politicians from exploiting their power. This is false on two counts:
1. The Iraq War - democratic politicians routinely exploit their power
2. Freedom of exit is more useful than a meaningless "vote". If my rights are being violated the ability to leave that regime is more important than a token gesture at a ballot box.

Joe Otten said...

Anthony, not wanting a state is not the same as not having a state. You would fail to get rid of the state, but you would succeed in getting rid of elections, and generally undermining democratic processes. That is how you would promote fascism.

Of course I don't suggest that a vote is the only thing, and freedom of exit is important.

But on all counts, including warmongering, undemocratic countries are worse than democratic ones with similar military capability.

Anthony said...

I think that by treating it as a binary distinction severely curtails the intellectual challenge of political economy.

There's a rich, varied, and important empirical literature on the effects of democracy, and it's not as clear cut as you claim. You seem to have an intrinsic preference for democracy that prevents you from engaging in an open-minded, comparative enquiry.

*We don't have universal suffrage. We don't have elections as regularly as we could have.*

I don't think libertarians believe that simply ending elections is the best way to reduce the power and scope of governments - you're right that without constitutional mechanisms in place this can give rise to authoritarianism. But that doesn't mean we can't improve outcomes by moving various functions of government from democratic to market processes.

But I don't think we can have that debate - and ultimately improve the functioning of a form of democracy - unless fundamentalists are willing to be more pragmatic.

Would you accept that democracy is a means to an end? If so, then it's a tool for governance. nothing more, nothing less.

Joe Otten said...

I agree that treating it as a binary distinction is a dangerous oversimplification.

By all means argue for better democratic processes, but I will treat your arguments with great caution while you use anti-democratic rhetoric.

Constitutional restraints on the power of the executive are good and important but they are not a silver bullet. Place too much burden on a constitution, and you get a politicised, activist and unaccountable supreme court.

Moving functions to market processes: yes, that's fine. But we've already privatised just about everything - with mixed results. So that's old hat. In any case the legitimacy for privatisation derives from the democratic nature of the decision to do it.


Means and ends. All the things we're discussing here are means. Ends are ultimately personal, not political, and will differ from person to person.

Anthony said...

If you have no ideological affinity to democracy, and purely see it as a means to an end, why would you "treat your arguments with great caution while you use anti-democratic rhetoric."

Is it because your ends sought involve the coercion of others, and democracy is a system that legitimises it?

Joe Otten said...

Yawn. OK, you've obviously stopped reading. No ideological affinity indeed.

Democracy is something that results in less coercion than the alternatives do. That's a good ideological reason for supporting it.

Anthony said...

Is it ok for a politician to campaign for a tax on imported tomatoes (because he wants to improve the income of local farmers), even though that politician doesn't voluntarily buy local tomatoes?

Anthony said...

Sorry, I just don't follow how you can have an ideological affinity for a means to an end. It just strikes me as being utterly bizarre.

Joe Otten said...

Not sure what you mean by "Is it OK". Obviously it shouldn't be illegal for a politician to campaign on tomato tarrifs. I wouldn't support that policy, so my judgement as a voter, which is the kind of judgement that matters, would be against it. I don't want to know what tomatoes any candidate buys, I have better things to fill my head with.

But there isn't and shouldn't be, broadly speaking, a set of rules regarding what politicians shouldn't campaign about, that would make some set of rules, and hence the courts, a higher authority than parliament.

Of course this principle is tempered a little because some activities which can have a campaigning function might be illegal for other reasons, and the same rule of law applies to politicians as everybody else. (Excepting things like parliamentary privilege.)

--

Maybe we are using the term ideology differently. Or perhaps I have an unusual philosophy in that I don't hold up liberty, equity and so forth - the stuff of political ideologies - as "ultimate" values. Ultimate values are akin to psychic goods not to theoretical abstractions like liberty.

My reason for doing this is that "ultimate" values logically cannot be justified by anything else. If liberty is an ultimate value, you cannot give a reason for supporting it. If you can give a reason for supporting it, then that reason must be pointing to some other value that is even more "ultimate".

Because I can and do argue for liberty, and because it is important to do so, I think it is a mistake to consider it "ultimate".

...and you thought we were off-topic before.

Anthony said...

yes, way off topic, but to concentrate back on the original point of your post - and the tomato example

i'll try to summarise my point:

you're claiming that there shouldn't be a problem if politicians enact policies to encourage a type of behaviour that they don't voluntarily undertake - because they themselves will be bound by it

right?

we'd both agree that if "I do X", "You should do Y" is hypocritical, but you're saying that "I do X, We should do Y" isn't.

my issue is that this presupposes unanimity i.e. some form of prisoner's dilemma, and it doesn't account for conflicting preferences.

If the politician thinks "Y" is the right thing to do, he should be doing it regardless of whether or not I am. To argue that his belief is conditional on my being forced to do "Y" - strikes me as being deeply illiberal.

Let's use an example: a carbon/air miles tax on tomatoes from overseas.

When I buy New Zealand tomatoes, this doesn't prevent a politician, or anyone else, from buying local ones. I think it is hypocritical - and wrong - for a politician to buy NZ ones, and then levy a tax on them to encourage us to switch to local. He's forcing me to behave in a way that he won't voluntarily behave himself.

It is exactly the same thing as me sleeping in a lot, so I create an alarm clock that wakes up everybody at 7am. It's hypocritical and wrong.

Joe Otten said...

That doesn't make any sense. If a politician levies taxies on his own activities (buying NZ tomatoes) that's hypocrisy?

No. Hypocrisy would be the opposite - levying taxes just on everybody else.