Friday, March 19, 2010

Greenpartywatch: Supporting the stabbing industry

Caroline Lucas was on Question Time yesterday, taking a fairly straightforward pro-Union line on the BA strike. It can be seen here on iplayer, starting about 13 minutes in (until the next episode replaces it).
"...I deeply regret that the dispute has been allowed to escalate to such a point that we are now looking at a strike..."
Is this the same Caroline Lucas, who considers flying to be as bad as stabbing? (Yes it is.)

This raises the obvious question - why would you not want the stabbing industry to be hit by strike action?

As I said on Twitter at the time. "Lucas pretends to back the workers though she would really have them all out of a job. #bbcqt" (Thanks for the retweet @bbcquestiontime). I got a response to this suggesting that under the Greens, there would be jobs for these cabin crews on the railways. But it is hardly supporting the workers to suggest that you can just get another job! That is basically supporting the management: take what you're offered or clear off.

This reveals what is probably the most fundamental contradiction at the heart of the Green Party's thinking these days. One day they try to put the environment first: flying is evil, economic growth is wrong, etc. On another day they are pro-Labour (!), pro-Union, pro-worker, socialist, "defending jobs", "avoid the double-dip recession".

So one day it is make do and be happy with less. The next day it is supporting one group or another demanding more for their members, even if those members are engaged in trashing the planet.

One day it is "prosperity without growth". The next it is opposing cuts to public services. Yet without growth to reduce the deficit, cuts to public services will have to be so huge, it would position the Greens way to the right of the Tories. Yes, the Greens would be the biggest public service cutters of all.

I wrote earlier about the Green New Deal policy of the Green Party which becomes a little preposterous when you notice that they haven't agreed or can't say whether they want the economy to grow or not.

There may yet be some merit in either of the Green Party's two faces, but they had really ought to pick one and run with it if they want to make any sense. Socialism or the environment -they're not compatible.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Change that works for you: Building a fairer Britain

What does it mean? Change that works for you. There have been grumblings over this choice of slogan - the Liberator has even printed on its front page 'change that offends no one - building a blander Britain'. But I ask you, when did you last meet a slogan you did like? The liberator demands clear gold water, but doesn't offer an alternative slogan. What could a party say to clearly and immediately distinguish itself from its rivals? Property is theft? Greed is good? There is no such thing as society? No taxation without representation? Deutschland uber Alles? Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité? But liberté is so much apple pie these days, so bland; everybody says they support it.

The problem with the slogan "change that works for you - building a fairer Britain" is that it needs to be explained in terms of the substance behind it, that is the 4 steps to a fairer Britain that the Liberal Democrats are campaigning on. Those 4 steps do represent change that works for you, not just for the few, and are a path to a fairer Britain.

They are fair taxes - a personal allowance of £10,000 paid for by closing loopholes at the top and a mansion tax. Not the Tory policy of tax cuts for millionaires, but tax cuts for millions. For generations, tax cuts under Labour and Conservative have benefited the better off, and tax rises have hit everyone. This is a radical policy, Messrs Liberator, which at any other time would have had the rich screaming about incentives - as if incentives didn't work for everyone else.

A fair start for children - extra money for schools that take on disadvantaged children, to begin to give some of the same chances in life to children from all backgrounds that are currently the preserve of the better schools in the nicer areas.

Vince Cable - reforming the banks - the other parties are shying away from this - a credible plan to tackle the deficit as the economy improves - and investment in the green jobs of the future.

Political reform - it is not our society that is broken, but our political system. The political system has lost the confidence of the people, and they're not wrong. Get rid of big money and safe seats. A freedom bill and real decentralisation. The other parties have no stomach for a fraction what is necessary.

This is change that works for you, and they are steps to a fairer Britain.

Sure the Tory slogan has the word change. They want us to think that they are Barack Obama. But of course Obama is a Liberal and a Democrat. And where is their change? And who is it for?

Sure the Labour slogan has the word fairness. But they've been in government for what seems like 30 years, and where is this fairness?

So maybe it sucks to have a slogan that must be explained. At least - unlike the other parties - we have one that can be explained.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Libertarian tropes #2: The Homestead Principle

It's been a while since I promised a demolition of libertarianism in a handful of blog posts. Sorry about that.

I hesitate a little now because, as it stands, the homestead principle (wiki) - that ownership of unowned land is properly initiated by working that land - is probably the best and most honest way ever of initiating ownership of something previously unowned. Yet this is only because all the other ways are crimes against humanity. Proudhon had a point when he said that "property is theft". Whoever first owned or enclosed a piece of land arbitrarily restricted the right - the liberty - of others to walk across it and use it.

Yet property rights are vital to our prosperity. Societies that don't respect property are dirt-poor. Counter-intuitively, failing to recognise property rights doesn't enrich the poor at the expense of the rich. It enriches only gangsters and warlords at the expense of everybody else.

So doesn't this mean that we need a kind of founding principle of property, and that the homestead principle is good because it is the best of these? No. Property is justified by its consequences, not by some fiction. Unfortunately there is a breed of libertarian that cannot admit that western governments ever legislate in the common good, even by accident, and therefore cannot give credit where it is due.

And it is worth adding that the homestead principle is a lot more useless than it appears. If there were a lot of unoccupied land lying around, it would have some value, but there isn't. And more to the point there wasn't during the spiritual home of the libertarian: the settlement of the American West. The previous occupants were being killed. We are told the "indians" didn't deserve the land because they had no concept of property, or something. No it doesn't make sense.

But where it gets ugly is when this "principle", this triumph of dogma over real life consequences for people, is used to justify an absolutist and all-encompassing view of property that would crush individual liberty. How so? Whenever there is a conflict between your freedom and mine, the libertarian will say "whose property is it?" So every public space must be privatised, so that the owner may make the rules. If we are in conflict over some abstract thing that is not property then that thing must become property, so that disputes over it may be resolved. Every homesteader is a tyrant in their own domain and an abject slave in any other. It could work, I suppose, if we were never to deal with other human beings.

And let's not forget that while homesteading may be a pragmatic initiation of property claims, it certainly isn't a fair one. Those at the front of the queue get land and those at the back don't. The landless classes would be subject to the arbitrary rules of others wherever they go, because everywhere belongs to somebody else. Libertarians argue that prudent entrepreneurs would be benevolent on their land to attract labour; landlords, to attract tenants, etc, but this is wishful thinking.

It is quite breathtaking that anybody dares call this doctrine libertarian. It is an assault on the rights and freedoms of workers, tenants and anybody who spends time on land they don't own. This is in the name of property, justified by the homestead principle, justified by self-ownership. Yes you read that right. Self-ownership is used to justify virtual slavery.

Back in the real world, where landlords and employers don't always feel the need to be benevolent, property rights are more limited - they are balanced against human rights. But this is not a scandal: property, remember, is a useful invented concept. But it is something we rightly legislate to protect because to do so serves the common good. Ditto human rights, the natural environment, voting, and most other things that libertarians scoff at. Counting a grotesque of one as a trump card over the others is just irrational.