Saturday, 23 March 2019

On the Binding Forces of Communities

This is the first essay in a new series. In which, I’ll seek to understand, and to diagnose the causes of, the ethical, political and economic ills of our times.

Some of what I say may be familiar to those who have read my earlier work. What is new here, is that I aim to put those, previously only loosely related, strands of thought into context. Metaphorically, in this series of essays I am seeking to assemble a “big crunch” of ideas. From which, in due time, I will aim to draw out material for the “big bang” of cure.

Humanity

You and I – well, I certainly, and you presumably – are individuals of a genus called humans or human beings; or, in Latin, homo. Physically, we are simians, related to monkeys and to great apes such as chimpanzees. Mentally, our species has earned the Latin name sapiens, meaning knowing, discerning, wise or sensible. Of course, not all of us are always all of these four things. Children and politicians, in particular, frequently fail to be any of them.

What is special about us? What is it, that makes us different from, and better than, mere animals?

First, we have evolved languages that are intricate and expressive. Second, we can think abstractly; for example, we can do mathematics or philosophy. Third, it is in our nature to take control of, and to leave our mark on, our surroundings. And we can record our ideas for posterity, for example through writing, art, music and architecture. Fourth, we have business and trade; not just at the level of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” but also, as Adam Smith put it, “give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want.” Fifth, it is in our nature to co-operate, and to form societies of like-minded people. It is also in our nature to be creative, and to build civilizations. Sixth, we have invented, and are still developing, life-improving conveniences like money, property rights, workable systems of justice, and economic production. Finally, we are a fast-moving species. And despite periods of stagnation or regression, such as the Dark Ages, we tend to get better – and faster – as we
go.

Thus, the first binding force, which tends to pull both you and I into a community, is species. What we have in common is a shared humanity.

But it has not always been so. Up to about 40,000 years ago, we “modern” humans shared our planet with another close to human species, the Neanderthals. Then, in the course of about 2,000 years, they died out, leaving as their legacy just a tiny percentage of our genome. As to how and why this extinction happened, experts are unsure. But one fact that seems generally accepted is that Neanderthals lived in smaller groups than their rivals. To me, this suggests that there may have been some social development among the sapiens, which enabled them to live in larger groups, and so to co-operate more effectively in the search for food.

Individual and partnership

So, what communities do we humans form? I already addressed this in an earlier essay “On Community.” Today, I’ll re-trace those steps, with more of a historical slant.

Human beings are individuals. That’s a biological fact. Each of us has our own body and our own mind. And yet, we are social too. Humans are convivial animals. It is in our nature to live together, and to co-operate, for mutual convenience.

The smallest multi-person community is the partnership, and specifically the partnership of two. Two adults of opposite sexes can provide the zygote, if you will, from which a family can develop. The resulting “nuclear” family, of two parents and their children, is the commonest formulation in humans of the next unit up the scale. Though there are, in some human cultures as well as among other simians, additional possibilities. Notably, polygyny, in which one male mates with several females.

The individual is the fundamental unit, from which all communities and societies are built. The family is of fundamental importance, too. For the family is the smallest unit of humanity which can survive indefinitely. And the binding force, which holds it together, is kinship.

Bands

Long ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, the primary community beyond the family was the band. Bands consisted of several families, often closely related and usually numbering a few dozen people. And the organization was generally loose; while the band’s elders were valued for their advice, there was no formal power structure.

The members of the band would have had a shared interest in finding food. This would have led them to co-operate in hunting. For example: “You flush the rabbits out of hiding, and I’ll kill them with the knife that Ugg made for me.” Thus, the primary binding force at the level of a band is teamwork. Independent individuals co-operate as a team, to produce a result which is more than the sum of its parts.

There is also a binding force of mutual trade, which enables individuals in the band – like Ugg the knifemaker – to specialize in those useful activities, at which they are particularly skilled. So, Ugg does not have to hunt, in order to eat. Making the hunters’ tools is enough.

Tribes

Sometimes, bands would join together into larger units, commonly called tribes. They might have a formal group of elders, making decisions on behalf of the whole tribe; for example, on where to go to maximize the chance of finding prey at a particular time of year. And, particularly among larger tribes, they might be ruled over by a headman and his advisors. Such systems are still used today in some traditional African chiefdoms.

When a tribe was well led, this could provide it with a fifth binding force, of leadership. The members of the tribe would acquire respect for the individual or individuals who led their tribe, and brought it success.

Religion

Another binding force in a tribal community would have been a shared religion. The people of the early tribes usually believed in many gods. And each tribe would have had its own set of gods, differing in one way or another from those of other tribes.

Thus, the sixth binding force of human communities is a shared belief system, and a shared understanding of the world around us.

Land and people

About twelve and a half thousand years ago, a great change took place. Groups of people, in several parts of the world, abandoned the traditional hunting and gathering. Instead, each group settled down in one place, and began to cultivate crops and to domesticate animals. When conditions were benign, the new approach allowed the populations of these groups to increase. The result was the rise of the Neolithic village.

People in such villages would have felt a strong attachment to the people in, and the territory of, their group. Thus, their community would have acquired a seventh binding force, which I’ll call proximity. And individuals in that community would have acquired a strong sense of we. They would have acquired a love of our land and our people, or what we would today call patriotism.

The state

Now, a dark shadow will enter my tale; the state. Political states aren’t an inevitable result of communities like the villages of Neolithic times. Indeed, the earliest states only appeared several thousand years after the Neolithic revolution. Nevertheless, the territorial state seems to have been an attractor point, towards which human communities were drawn.

There are several theories as to how the first states came about. Of these, Robert Carneiro’s seems to me as believable as any. In bad times, groups that were short of food would seek to use force to take for themselves the product of the labours of other villages. Thus was unleashed on humanity the scourge of war. In some places, the losers of such wars were able to flee to a new territory. But in places where arable land was scarce and its area circumscribed, when there was famine and so wars between villages, the losers could not flee. The conquerors would soon have worked out that they were better off if they didn’t exterminate the defeated. Instead, they subjected these villages to taxation in the form of their produce.

This had two consequences. First, the size of political units increased, from one village to many. And second, within such units there was a differentiation into two classes. A ruling class, formed of the strongest warriors and their cronies and hangers-on; and a productive class, subjected to the ruling class. The state was up and running; and soon, war became all but endemic. For, as Randolph Bourne has told us, war is the health of the state.

As time passed, a variety of structures evolved. But most had one thing in common. That is, power was in the hands of a small, élite minority, who did not contribute to food production, but were supported by the labours of the ordinary people. Furthermore, in many cases accession to the élite was hereditary. More often than not, there was a single individual at the top of the pile – a chieftain or king – surrounded by an aristocracy of senior members of select families. And many such chieftains claimed that their power and authority was sanctioned by the gods. From which, it was only a small step to claiming that they were gods.

Something rather nasty had happened here. Earlier human communities had been formed for mutual benefit, and in them there had been a role for everyone, according to their talents. But with a state in place, the link between the benefit of the ruling class and of the ordinary people had been severed. Furthermore, the ruling class had leisure to plot and scheme for further power gains. So, the system tended to perpetuate itself. A bottom-up community, one of whose binding forces was leadership of those most fit to lead, had morphed into a top-down one, in which ordinary people were subjected to the rule of the powerful. The rulers were not always the best equipped to lead the community for the benefit of all its members. And the worst among them were not much interested at all in the good of the ordinary people.

The city state

Despite the evil that is the state, our progress continued. The city state of ancient Greece was a great advance on what preceded it. It was the environment in which the first codes of law, and some of the first examples of money, were introduced. And inside the walls of city states, there was time and opportunity to experiment with ways of organizing the community. It is from the Greek polis, city, that the modern word “politics” comes.

There were similarities between the Greek cities. For example, all of them relied on the institution of slavery. And while many cities in theory allowed political rights to all male property owners, in practice only a small minority of the residents had full political rights.

But each city state was different, too. Each had its own culture and values. Athens, for example, had a culture which valued rational thought. And it encouraged skilled and talented foreigners to settle there; Aristotle was one such. Sparta, on the other hand, was a militaristic oligarchy, closed to most foreigners, and not allowing its own people to travel.

Thus, the city state added, to the binding forces of species, kinship, teamwork, trade, leadership, belief and proximity, an eighth: a shared culture, with a shared set of values and customs. The people of a city would have felt attachment to their particular culture and customs, and to the values which underlay them.

But this was all too good to last. In a world of warring states, it was inevitable that an experiment like Athenian democracy would eventually be killed off by the “top dog” of the moment. In this case, the Macedonian Empire in 322 BC.

Rome

Rome was the city state par excellence. It was the one which, in time, rose above all the rest. In the process, it managed to incorporate, and to build on, some of the best of the Greek culture. And to develop the important ideas of ius and lex; justice and law. Though the Romans could also, of course, be brutal towards those who opposed them.

Rome’s power lasted many centuries. One reason was that, up to the end of the Republic at least, the Romans preferred to tolerate the religious practices and heritage of those they conquered. Another was that allies of the Romans, and even those they had conquered, were often allowed to become Roman citizens. And so, many people became bound to Rome, and to its culture and values. Moreover, there was much trade and interaction between people from different parts of the Roman world. At its best, Roman culture was cosmopolitan like none before or since.

But this, again, was too good to last. Rome died, not so much by conquest, as through internal decay. The death was a slow and painful one, lasting many centuries. And it included many elements that we also see today. For example, increasing centralization and bureaucracy, high taxation, corruption and economic decline.

Later developments

I’ll pass quickly over a millennium or so. During this time, Europeans were suffering the Dark Ages, and things weren’t going too well for the Mayans, either. It was left to the Arabs and the Chinese to be the main carriers of the torch of human civilization through this period.

The Renaissance got Europeans moving again. Part of it had a backward-looking focus; that is, the re-discovery of Greek and Latin thought. But there were also great advances in art, literature, music and philosophy, and even in political theory. Perhaps it was to be expected that such a movement would begin in Italy. For Italy was, at that time, a chaotic network of city states. In which, people were freer than under centralized monarchies like France, Spain or England.

But the Christian religion had become a mess. By the early 16th century, it had been transformed into a top-down system, just as had happened with the rise of the state. Popes and their hangers-on behaved as badly as kings, and often worse. Religion was no longer about shared belief in a deity, but about conformity to official dogma. Inquisitions severely punished “heretics.” And the persecutions were stepped up once the Protestant Reformation had got under way.

To the present day

Earlier, I wrote two essays, “On Political Societies and Political Governments” and “On Political Ideologies,” which deal with most of the salient history of the subsequent period.

In the first of these, I looked at the “Westphalian” nation state, and the badly outdated 16th century idea of sovereignty. I looked at the fiction of the “social contract,” which is supposed to bind us all together into political states. If there’s a binding force in there, I’d call it nation, the source of nationalism.

The reason I am unsure about whether nation is a valid binding force or not, is that it seems to be little more than a hybrid of several of the other binding forces. Kinship, leadership, religious belief, proximity and culture are all in there. Language, maybe, is something the idea of nation can add into the mix. But this leads to difficulties. Are English and Welsh speakers one nation, or two? What about polyglot Switzerland? Or even the USA?

Moreover, too many people seem, when talking of nation or country, to equate it with the state. “My country, right or wrong” is an egregious example of this. How can a piece of land be right or wrong? A state can do right or (far more often) wrong; but not a country!

In the second essay, I talked of the Enlightenment, which freed human minds from shackles both religious and political. And I listed some of its values, such as reason, tolerance, natural rights and freedoms and the rule of law. There is, I think, a tenth binding force in there; one which links together people who share these values. I’ll call this binding force enlightenment.

But against enlightenment, there are arranged a huge mass of clashing political ideologies, whose promoters and supporters want to enforce them on everyone they can. They vary from liberalism and conservatism, through nationalism, to evils such as socialism, violent anarchism, communism, fascism and theocracy. And ultimately, to the “unholy trinity” of corrupt ideologies, to which we in the West are subjected today: welfarism, warfarism and environmentalism.

To sum up

That’s as far as I want to take this line of argument today. I’ll close by inviting those interested to re-read the two essays I named above. Later, I plan to come back and address the question: how well are these ten binding forces working for us human beings today? Here they are, again:

  1. Humanity.
  2. Kinship.
  3. Teamwork.
  4. Trade.
  5. Leadership.
  6. Belief system.
  7. Proximity.
  8. Culture, customs and values.
  9. (?) Nation.
  10. Enlightenment.
But, in the words of Michael Ende: That is another story, and shall be told another time.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

It was a fine day

It was a fine day: February 27th, 2019. I drove to a beautiful place in the New Forest. It was 4pm, still sunny and warm; although it had been almost 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) earlier in the day. Compare that with Minnesota, quite a way south of my latitude, where the daily forecast was minus 16 Fahrenheit (minus 27 Celsius).

For a week and a half, we had had exceptionally fine and warm weather for February in England. Ten days earlier, I had sat in a pub garden full of people. Full! That’s rare enough in March; and unheard of in February. And since I was lucky enough to be in a break between work projects, I had walked a lot around my local area during that time.

The wildlife loved it! Geese were congregating in the fields by the canal, or on the island in the middle of the lake. Ducks, moorhens and smaller birds were active too. The mating season is coming! The “You dick” bird, as I name it because of its call, was more vocal in the trees than ever. (Thirty miles south, I call it the Referee Bird; there it says, “Free kick, free kick, free kick.”)

In the New Forest, the ponies and cattle grazed in the sun, seemingly comfortable and content. I got out of my car, and went for a brief walk. The New Forest is often boggy, even in summer. But not that day. A good thing, because I had forgotten to bring my walking boots. Off the gravel track, the grass was springy, clean and easy to walk on. In February!

And yet, there are many today – mostly political operators – that, with ever increasing stridency, trumpet that “we” humans are warming the planet, and causing catastrophe! And try to use it as an excuse to destroy our prosperity, our freedoms and ultimately our civilization.

OK, this isn’t the time to discuss the flawed, corrupted “science” of “global warming.” Nor even to point out that historically, human civilizations have fared better in warm times than cold. No… the question I ask today is, why do the political class and their hangers-on do this crap to us, against all objective evidence? They’re obviously afraid of something. But what is it that they’re afraid of?

Now I’m no Christian these days, but I was brought up in that tradition. And when young, I read the Old Testament all the way through. And the very last chapter of it begins with the following (Malachi 4:1): “For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven.”

And then I read the next words. “And all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.”

“All the proud” and “all that do wickedly?” Yup. That describes the political class perfectly. No?

Sunday, 24 February 2019

On Property and Borders

Wherever you are on the political spectrum, this essay is likely to offend you. The “left” will hate my uncompromising views on private property. The “right,” conversely, will be incensed by my principled objections to political borders and walls. So, here goes…

Why property?

Whenever many people must interact together, a common problem is that of scarce means. Resources like food, or land, or tools, or drinkable water, are not sufficiently abundant to allow everyone to have as much of them as they wish.

The Belgian philosopher Frank van Dun identifies three potential solutions to this problem. Two are political, one economic. In the first, Unity, resources are assigned by diktat of some central authority. The second political solution, Consensus, in theory takes into account the views of all, in order to reach an optimal allocation. But in practice, the more people there are, the harder it becomes to take account of each individual’s views. Thus, for large groups, consensus tends to become much like unity, with resources being allotted by a cadre of “people who matter.” Neither of these solutions seems to offer much to the ordinary human individual. So, it’s the third solution, Property, with which I’ll be concerned today.

Frank van Dun describes the property solution thus. “The objective or natural boundaries that separate one person from another also entail objective boundaries that separate one person’s words, actions and works from those of another. What lies within a person’s boundaries is his property.” He also observes: “Property requires only that each person can know which parts of the set of scarce means are his and which are another’s.”

Types of property

Since the Neolithic revolution, the idea of property has been rooted in real estate – areas of land and water. Containable resources, like crops and domesticated animals in the fields and fish in the lakes, also became property. Soon, to these were added the buildings on the land, their fitments, and the tools which enabled people to pursue the necessities of life.

John Locke recounts, in a famous chapter in his Second Treatise of Government, how the idea of property had evolved from these roots up to his day. For him, the key element in making something into property is “mixing labour” with it. Indeed, he observes: “In most [products useful to the life of man] ninety-nine hundredths are wholly to be put on the account of labour.”

Locke tells, also, how the invention of money enabled people to acquire, through their own efforts, more possessions than had been possible before. “And thus came in the use of money, some lasting thing that men might keep without spoiling, and that, by mutual consent, men would take in exchange for the truly useful but perishable supports of life. And as different degrees of industry were apt to give men possessions in different proportions, so this invention of money gave them the opportunity to continue and enlarge them.”

Acquiring property

Property can be justly acquired in three ways. The first, not so easy today, is by “mixing your labour” with resources not previously owned by anyone, and thereby taking possession of those resources. The second is by voluntary trade of resources, including your labour, with others. And the third is a special case of the second, where one individual makes a gift to another of what they themselves have justly acquired.

Tracing back each individual’s justly owned property to its source, I find that every item of it has been earned, wholly or mainly, through labour. And this is so whether the labour is physical or mental, and whether in business, in do-it-yourself or for a wage. So, all justly owned property can be traced back to part of someone’s life being expended in creating or improving it. Thus, as I like to say, property is life.

For most of us, who don’t receive big legacies from rich parents or uncles, this means that our property is the product of our own productive lives. Your earned money and property represent the time and energy, which you used up in order to earn them. So, if a criminal gang or a political government takes away some of your money or property without giving anything of value to you in return, then the part of your life which you used to earn it has been killed. And the killing was pre-meditated. That is why I say that unrequited taxation is murder.

Defending property rights

As to maintaining property rights, Frank van Dun says this. “The property solution appears to require no more than an adequate organization of self-defence.” Indeed so; yet not just at the level of individuals guarding and defending their own, but at the communal level too. For if you have made a mutually satisfactory pact with others over the division of property between yourselves, and a third party tries to take property from any of you, it makes sense to work together to resist the bandit.

Thus, a principal function of any government worth the name – in my view, third behind only maintenance of peace and delivery of objective justice – must be defence of property rights. So, there must be clear, just and generally accepted rules as to who owns what. And ways to claim and to secure compensation when property has been unjustly taken, damaged or destroyed.

Restrictions on property

Besides rights, property also places responsibilities on the owner. For example, if you have a gun, you must not use it to shoot innocent people! And when you own an animal such as a bull, you must fence it in, and make sure it doesn’t gore your neighbour or trample his flowers.

Moreover, you mustn’t intentionally use your property to cause damage, or nuisance, or unreasonable risk, to others’ lives. Nor should you invite on to your property anyone that will cause damage or nuisance to, or steal from, your neighbours. Nor should you use your property with intent to prevent others going about their own lives as they wish. In particular, you must not surround anyone’s property, or unjustly curtail their freedom of movement, or prevent them receiving visitors or services (such as electric power) from outside. This condition, which I call the “principle of non-encirclement,” will be key when, later, I come to look at borders.

I sum up these restrictions by saying: Property must be used with propriety.

Private and public space

I’ll now focus on real property (land, water, buildings). A key characteristic of real property is that it allows the proprietor, whether an individual, a family or a society, to control access to the property. Boundaries can be set around and, at need, within the property, and rules made and enforced on access to it. These rules can specify which parts of it may be accessed by whom, when, and for what purposes. Access rights can even be traded away, for example by renting out the property. All this is accepted as normal in most countries of the world.

Against this right to control access to real property, there’s another consideration, the principle of non-encirclement. People have a need to get from A to B. And if a landowner of a large territory in between places a block on all access to it, this may become unreasonably difficult. The solution, which evolved in England over many centuries of trial and error, is called easements. Easements allow for a general presumption of freedom of movement along designated routes, even across property owned by others.

As a result, land (and water, too) have become divided into two types of space: private space and public space. Private space consists of owned spaces, each with its own boundaries, but not including the easements. Public space consists of those easements. (Here, I use “public” in the sense of “open to all,” not “owned by the state.” There are, of course, both private spaces owned by states, and public spaces owned by individuals or societies.)

The only valid “no-go” borders are those which arise from the property rights of individuals, families and societies. (Including, for now, political states!) And these borders are all either at the edges of, or within, private spaces. Further, the principle of non-encirclement requires that these boundaries can only restrict movement from the public space, or from other private spaces, into a private space, never in the opposite direction.

Thus, absent good and just reasons to deny access to it to specific individuals (for example, to those convicted of serious crimes and thereby sentenced to incarceration), the public space must be open to all, without exception. And once an individual is rightly in the public space, he has the right to go anywhere in the public space. So, the entire public space must be open to all, subject to reasonable conditions like not causing damage or excessive noise. And those conditions must be the same for everyone. Moreover, I expect there would be, ultimately, only one public space, which would be connected. That is, any point of it would be accessible from any other point without leaving the public space.

Communes and associations

When many people live in a small geographical territory, there are two approaches to setting property boundaries there. I describe these as the commune, and the community or association.

A commune is a physical space, owned by a society, in which members of that society can meet or reside. The classic example of a commune is a monastery; but there are many others. For example, a club-house open to the members of the club, or an Oxford or Cambridge college. In a commune, the rules for access to the space are set by the governing body of the society, just like any other policy of that society. A college’s Master and Fellows may decree, for example, that tourists must pay a fee to visit the college, but entry will be free for alumni.

The alternative, a community or association, is where people agree to share a territory for reasons of convenience. Examples are a block of flats, or a gated community. Such properties acquire two levels of borders. There are borders around members’ particular spaces, and borders around the whole. Access to members’ spaces is, in almost all cases, gained through common areas, open only to members and those they invite in.

The essential difference between an association and a commune is that in an association there’s no “owner” above and beyond the members. There may be a society – a management company or home-owner’s association, say – which administers those parts of the space not owned by members. But the members as a whole do not form a society. They have no common purpose beyond living their lives as conveniently as possible, and they have no shared political agendas. And in an association, absent problems such as criminal activity or persistent nuisance, no member may bar another member from inviting in to their own space, and so into the relevant common areas, whomsoever they please.

Political borders

Nation states, and their political governments, claim a right to set borders around their “realms,” and to control who goes in and out. Many people, even those who in other matters favour individual freedom, support stringent border controls. Some even want to supplement them with physical obstacles, such as walls.

On what theoretical basis might such controls be justified? Sovereignty is one candidate. According to this idea, the “sovereign” (originally a king, but today more often seen as the state or government) owns the realm, and everything in it. And the sovereign has the right to make “laws” to bind people in it, and in particular to set controls on who may enter or exit it. In this view, a country is a commune owned by a state.

There are problems with this approach, though. First, if the state owns the whole realm, then none of its subjects can own any property there at all! At best, “property rights” in such a set-up are merely leases from the state. And second, arbitrary exit controls, such as the prohibition on emigration of skilled workers from England in the early 1800s or the Berlin Wall up to 1989, are incompatible with any notion of human rights.

Another possible approach is to regard those living in a particular territory as a community. They do, after all, have something in common; namely, residing in that territory. But if that was indeed the theory behind political borders, any member of the community would be able to invite in from outside anyone they please. A Florida orange grower, for example, would be able to invite to work in his fields Mexicans, Cubans or whoever else he feels is most appropriate. That isn’t what we see today, is it?

Perhaps, then, the theory may be that those in a political state’s territory form, not a community, but a society? Even though the agreement must be tacit, since people have never signed up to membership of such a thing? That would indeed enable a governing body, acting on behalf of all the members of the society, to set rules on who may enter the territory.

Such a fiction might perhaps have worked centuries ago, when nations were small and culturally quite homogeneous. But today, the idea that tens or hundreds of millions of people, with diverse and often diametrically opposed cultures, religions and political ideologies, all form one society with (in Rousseau’s phrase) a “general will,” seems ridiculous. As does the idea that in a world-wide economy, a society abruptly cuts off at some arbitrary border.

If a state were a private landowner, it could of course rightly set up borders for, and control access to, its own property. But if it’s a private landowner like any other, it must keep to the principle of non-encirclement. If it has land at, say, Heathrow Airport or the Port of Dover, it must allow people to go around, or to use its easements to cross, that land without hindrance. This shows that today’s states claim a moral right to be more than a private landowner. So, we’re back to the idea that a country is a commune owned by the state.

Legal and illegal entry

Lastly, legal versus illegal entry to a state (and by extension, legal versus illegal immigration).

For me, what is right and what is wrong must be the same for everyone. That is, indeed, implied by the concepts of the rule of law and equality before the law. So, you cannot reasonably claim, of twin brothers Mo and Ahmed, neither of whom has ever committed a crime, that it’s legal for one to be in a particular place in the public space, and illegal for the other.

You can, of course, say that Mo is rightly on your private property, because he’s a plumber, and you’ve invited him in to fix a leak. While Ahmed, if he was in the same place, would be trespassing, unless you chose to invite him in. But by calling one of them legal in the public space and the other illegal for being in the same place, you not only reject the idea of equality before the law, but also accept the unjust and dangerous notion that “laws” made by politicians, or quotas devised by bureaucrats, are right just by virtue of having been made.

To sum up

Property rights arise out of the need to resolve conflicts over scarce resources in a way that is fair to all. All justly acquired property is obtained through labour in one form or another.

Real property allows the owner to control access to the property. But there’s a big difference between property in a community and in a commune. In a community, one member cannot rightly stop another member inviting on to their property whoever they wish. Whereas in a commune, access rules are set by the governing body of the society which owns the commune.

The theoretical basis, on which political borders are founded, is very dubious. To justify the existence of such borders, either the state must own everything (so there are no property rights), or everyone within the borders must be tacitly assumed to be members of one society. Which, on examination, is ridiculous under today’s conditions. And lastly, to arbitrarily divide people into legal and illegal entrants to, or residents in, a political state is unjust.

Friday, 4 January 2019

On Welfare


Today, I’ll address questions like: Are we obliged to help others when they are in adversity? If so, under what conditions? Who, exactly, deserves our help? How well do current welfare states perform the task at hand? And how might we put together a system to do the job properly, helping those who need and deserve help, while avoiding injustice to anyone?

Views from the past

John Locke, certainly, knew that there are good reasons to help your fellow human beings when they are in trouble. For he wrote, in his First Treatise: “It would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much of another’s plenty as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise.”

But a counter-balancing view comes from 16th century English clergyman Richard Hooker, quoted by Locke himself. “If I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me, than they have by me showed unto them.” In other words, if you behave badly towards others, you can’t reasonably expect them to behave any better towards you.

In my view, Locke is right, but Hooker is more right. Locke is right, because undeserved adversity – such as accident, illness, disability, unemployment – can happen to anyone. “There, but for the grace of god, go I.” Moreover, old age hits everyone who doesn’t die young. So, if you don’t show caring for your fellow human beings when they’re in trouble, you can’t expect them to feel much obligation to help you when you’re the one in trouble. But Hooker is more right; because brotherhood must be a two-way process. If individuals fail to show fellowship towards you, or if they behave badly towards you or even do harm to you, you can’t reasonably be obliged to feel or to show any brotherhood towards them.

My take on all this is that, to be worthy of our compassion and help, individuals must behave as our fellow human beings. That means, they must measure up to two sets of standards. One, they must be human beings; they must behave in ways that are natural to, and right for, human beings. And two, they must be our fellows. They must care about us; each of us as an individual. In particular, they must refrain from doing things that unjustly harm or inconvenience us, violate our rights, or restrict our freedoms.

Human nature

Here, in brief, is my take on human nature. We human beings are individuals. And we have free will. But we have also an ethical dimension. We are moral agents, who strive to know right from wrong. And we are naturally good; that is, our nature leads us to seek to do what is right. Even though, obviously, some among us fail to develop that nature.

Furthermore, it is in our nature to form societies and to build civilization. And at a higher level yet, it is in our nature to be creative. It is this creativity which elevates us above mere animals.

Convivial and disconvivial

In an earlier essay, I introduced the ideas of conviviality and convivial conduct. Other words you might use to describe such conduct are “civilized” or “reasonable.” I characterized some of the features of convivial conduct as follows: Seeking truth. Peacefulness, honesty, and respect for rights and freedoms. Refraining from harming innocents. Taking responsibility for directing your life, and for the effects of your actions on others. Striving to be economically productive. Tolerating difference. Always trying to behave with integrity and in good faith.

On the other hand, some individuals are disconvivial. In large matters, or repeatedly, or even habitually, they engage in conduct that is not convivial. Such as: Lying, dealing in bad faith. Ordering, committing or supporting aggressions. Behaving unreasonably or irresponsibly towards others. Sponging off others. Violating rights, or promoting or supporting violations of rights. Trying to constrain others’ freedoms, or their enjoyment of their justly earned wealth. Those that behave in disconvivial ways are, to use a vernacular word, assholes.

Now, I’ll ask: Why should those of us, who strive to be convivial, feel any sense of identity with, or caring for, those that behave like assholes? Why should truthful, honest people, for example, care about liars or the dishonest? Why should productive people care about the lazy? Why should peaceful people care about aggressors? Why should those, who respect others’ rights and freedoms, care about those that violate our rights or deny our freedoms?

From the point of view of those who strive to be convivial, disconvivials are a pain and a drain. They don’t measure up even to minimum standards of humanity. They are not fit to be accepted into any society of convivial human beings. Why, then, should we care about them?

Who are your fellows?

To promote, support or carry out any act that violates the rights of, harms or inconveniences, or seeks to harm or to inconvenience, innocent people is to commit an aggression against those innocent people. If you are a victim of such acts, those that did these things have committed aggression against you. So, why should you feel any kind of fellowship for them? If they want, for example, to constrain your freedom, to subject you to harassment, to impose taxes on you from which you get no benefit, or to reduce or cut off your economic opportunities? They have behaved, not as your friends, but as your enemies.

Do you really have any obligation to help such individuals? Ought you to go out of your way, or to use any of your resources, for their benefit? My answer is: Hell, no. You have no obligation to feed again those that bit your hand last time. They owe you compensation for what they have done to you; you don’t owe them anything.

Political policies and agendas

Today we suffer under a host of bad political policies, promoted by self-serving interest groups. Some like to go to the school-bully that is political government to get favours for themselves, or to get harms done to those they don’t like. Others like to rob us of our earned money – to deny us, in Locke’s words, title to the product of our honest industry – to enrich themselves and their friends and supporters, or to fund their pet projects. And many of those projects are disconvivial in themselves; for example, spreading lies and propaganda, seeking to force people to change their lifestyles against their wills, or starting wars. Yet others have a yen to violate our freedoms just for the hell of it, or to enforce arbitrary “laws” harshly on us.

Whenever you are inconvenienced, harmed, or you have your rights violated or your freedoms unnecessarily constrained by a political policy, then those that promoted, supported or enforced that policy have committed aggressions against you. And in a nasty, sneaky way too. What they have done is worse than merely criminal; it is cowardly, too. It is morally equivalent to – unprovoked – punching you in the nose, then running away.

But it is the deliberate imposition of political ideologies and agendas that leads to the worst excesses of disconviviality. Such agendas spawn webs of interconnected policies, all directed to outcomes that today are, virtually always, hostile to the interests of convivial people.

Take, as an example, socialism, which even 180 years ago had shown that it doesn’t work. Or communism, that has caused the deaths of almost 100 million people. Or fascism, a warlike ideology that easily turns to genocide. Or religious conservatism, that seeks to force everyone to conform to the customs of one particular sect. Or social conservatism, which seeks to maintain an existing order, even after it has clearly failed. Or corporate cronyism, or some ill-defined idea of “social justice,” both of which seek to enrich favoured groups, and to make innocent people pay for it.

I ask: Are those that promote and support these agendas really our brothers, our fellow human beings? And my answer again is: Hell, no. Should Jews, for example, be expected to feel fellowship with former nazis, or with their modern cohorts? Should those, whose lives have been damaged by bad political policies, be expected to feel compassion for, or to give any kind of help to, those that promoted or supported such policies? Surely not. They didn’t, and don’t, care about you; so why should you care about them? If an asshole starves, that’s one less asshole. Isn’t that a good thing?

But among all these evil ideologies, the worst is the environmentalist or green agenda. Hatched, propagandized and rammed down our throats by a globalist élite with no concern at all for us human beings, this agenda openly seeks to destroy the industrial civilization, which over the last two centuries has brought more opportunities for human beings to fulfil ourselves than ever before. And it does so by – among much else – using lies, bad “science,” hype and deceptions, by inverting the burden of proof, and by making the accused prove a negative. It is no exaggeration to say that those that favour the green agenda are traitors to human civilization. And therefore, they deserve to be expelled from our civilization, and denied its benefits.

Welfare states

Although there are government run welfare systems of one kind or another in many countries, the roots of the welfare state system lie in the UK. Before the 19th century, help for the poor was a religious matter, and was provided by local parishes. After the disastrous experiment of the 1834 Poor Law, there grew up private systems, through which people could get relief from poverty. Most notable among these were the friendly societies. But the political class still wanted to take control of these systems. Via a “national insurance” scheme in 1911, they gradually progressed to the creation, in 1948, of the giant, all-encompassing combine that is today called the welfare state.

In the UK at least, it isn’t just pensions, health and unemployment insurance that are provided by government and financed through taxation. Among much else, there is subsidized housing. There is “free” education. Things like roads and railways are, more or less directly, controlled by government. Even bus services are subsidized. The effect is like a giant financial whirlpool. For productive, honest people, some of what has been taken from us through taxation is, eventually, re-cycled to us in one form or another. But a lot of it – most – just disappears.

So, how well has the welfare state done its job? After 70 years, has it ended poverty? Has it made us all better off? Has it provided us with financial security in our old age? Hell, no.

First, the welfare state has always been a Ponzi scheme. It doesn’t enable people to build up a surplus, which they can use when in need. Rather, it has always depended on those currently working to pay for benefits for those not working, or no longer able to work. Then, in the early 1970s, there began the fall in indigenous birth rates to below replacement levels, which today has reached almost all Western countries. The political class’s response has been twofold. First, to increase taxes. Thus, today in the UK we suffer the highest tax burden in 50 years. And, as the population ages, that burden is increasing rapidly. Second, to actively encourage mass immigration. This has led, understandably, to negative reactions from those who feel their culture is being diluted, and their home turned into a foreign land; if not also a building site.

Second, the economic policies that maintain the welfare state have had disastrous consequences for many working people.  Sixty years ago, one working parent could support a family. Now, it often takes two. Buying a home, too, has become an increasing strain. Meanwhile, low interest rates and deliberate currency inflation – euphemized as “quantitative easing” – have favoured the state itself, and the big corporations that hang off its coat-tails; while we ordinary people are unable to preserve anything like the value of our savings. Further, acts of political meddling have taken away the access to the market, and so the earning power, even of highly skilled individuals. I myself am a victim of such an evil act, code named IR35, which for 20 years now has reduced my income to half or even a third of what I’m worth in the market.

Third, the welfare state has had bad social consequences, too. Sociologists tell us that it has created an underclass. With no desire to work, and in some cases with criminal tendencies, they have become unemployable and dependent on the state for their very existence. It has also caused a more general moral decay; many now show no shame about taking as much as they possibly can from the trough. It has destroyed the feeling of solidarity, that underpinned what used to be known as “civil society.” Further, those who, like me, have been expected to pay for all this, but have stood on our own two feet and never claimed any social benefits, don’t get even a single word of thanks or appreciation. Not even from one of the recipients, not even once. Ungrateful bastards! Instead, they give thanks and respect, not to those who earned the wealth they are living off, but to the political class that re-distributed it in their direction.

Fourth, like any centralized system that is not subject to market pressures or competition, the welfare state has become expensive and bureaucratic. Worse, it has encouraged health fascists and other nanny-state freedom-haters to try to take advantage. That’s why we keep hearing trial balloons for policies like denying medical treatment to smokers, or imposing a “calorie cap” on restaurant meals. Or, even, the ridiculous idea of a “universal basic income” (UBI). Such a system would have all the failings of the welfare state, and more. The poor would, very likely, be worse off even than under today’s welfare systems. A UBI would take away all incentive to work hard, or even to work at all. And so, it would inevitably end in disastrous failure.

And last… the welfare state is unsustainable. It’s like a neglected, ramshackle building that will eventually collapse under its own weight. The political class know this, but they aren’t willing to admit they were wrong. They won’t do anything to dismantle or even to reform the system. Therefore, it continues inexorably on its way towards the brick wall of bankruptcy. And when it hits… unless you’re rich or politically connected, you don’t want to be old. Of course, the political class will look to make sure they themselves don’t suffer. Unless there is radical change, it will be those, who have paid and paid and paid but grow old at the wrong time, who will be shafted. Maybe 10 or 15 years from now. Maybe sooner.

A sane, sustainable system

How might we build a sustainable system, which can help those who are poor through no fault of their own, while allowing everyone to get on with their lives in their own way? The first component, I think, must be savings. People must have incentives and opportunities to work, to develop their skills, and so to build up a reserve for their old age, or for a rainy day. And whatever is left over, they must be able to leave to their children or to other favourites. To enable this requires several conditions. One, a fully free market. Two, a framework of good governance, that delivers peace and objective justice to all, and defends individual rights, and in particular property rights. Three, a reasonably stable currency, which cannot be arbitrarily debauched. And four, the absence of a greedy, grasping, ravenous political state.

The second component is insurance. This works best for those risks, such as serious accident or disability, which have a low chance of happening, but major negative effects if they do happen. Third comes the implementation of systems of mutual aid; perhaps through re-vitalization of friendly societies, or creation of modern versions of them. Fourth is a revival of civil society, in which people look out for their neighbours, and in which there is personal contact between helpers and helped. And as a final backstop, particularly in cases of unexpected emergency, there is always voluntary charity.

As to the how to get there from here, that subject demands an essay in itself. All I’ll say now is that the interests of productive, honest, self-directing people must always take precedence over the interests of the lazy, the dishonest, the politicized and all other assholes.

To sum up

All human individuals owe help and compassion to their fellow human beings. But fellowship is a two-way process. You don’t owe anything to those that fail to behave as human beings, or fail to behave as your fellows, or support political policies that harm you.

Today’s welfare states have had major negative economic and social effects. They have all but destroyed solidarity and civil society, and caused moral decay and loss of individual freedom. Furthermore, welfare states are unsustainable. Without radical change, they will collapse; and sooner rather than later.

A free, just, de-politicized and sustainable welfare system is feasible. It could be built on a foundation of savings, insurance, mutual aid, civil society and, at need, charity.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

A Christmas Story


By Colin Elk

At the winter solstice, on 21st December, Santa said to his reindeer: “Come on, let’s go!”

The Lead Reindeer said, “But you haven’t given us the password!”

“What password?”

“The one Mircosoft gave you.”

“Why do I need a bloody password?”

“Didn’t you hear about the Mogg-Ryan-Goodwin Act, passed back in July? It’s very clear. For security reasons, every leader of a reindeer troupe must supply a password before he and his reindeer can be allowed to fly.”

Santa looked up the reference, and found that it was indeed so. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

He had forgotten the password, so he e-mailed Mircosoft Support requesting a password change. He received an immediate automated response, and set about changing his password. But whatever combination he tried that he might afterwards remember, he got a message: “Your password is not sufficiently strong.”

And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Exasperated, Santa typed a long, random sequence of characters. And, lo and behold, they were accepted! “Now confirm your new password” came the message.

Try as he would, Santa couldn’t reproduce the sequence. So, he sent another e-mail to Mircosoft Support, asking to be allowed to change his password again. He received an immediate automated response, “Mircosoft Support is closed on Sundays. Please try again tomorrow.”

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

It was now Christmas Eve, and Santa was in danger of breaching his contract with the Great Galactic Gopher. For a small consideration, Santa had agreed to provide a diversion for Earthly children from what their elders were doing to them, by flying – in child-visible mode – around planet Earth with his reindeer on one day of the year, December 25th.

Santa considered his options and, having decided, set up a new Mircosoft account. Not having much creativity, he picked a username that was an anagram of his own: “Satan.” Everything went through smoothly, and he was authorized to take his reindeer up on the next day. And did so.

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

When the Great Galactic Gopher found out, he laughed uncontrollably for two days straight. He needed a day of rest after that.

Monday, 26 November 2018

A Christmas Carol (2018)


A lady fellow denizen of a forum I inhabit recently published an article entitled “Why All the Depressing Christmas Songs?” I can see her point; there’s a lot of rubbish “music” around with some attempt at a Christmas theme. There are also, however, still some pretty decent Christmas tunes. As a tuba player in a brass band, I usually have a busy December playing this music in various places – from churches to shopping centres to care homes – not to mention standing outside in the cold under a lamp-post! (Fortunately, we don’t do as many of those last as we used to).

We play all the old favourites of course: Hark the Herald, Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, and others that people can sing along to. We often finish with Jingle Bells, starting quite slowly but getting faster and faster and faster! We also do some of the less well known, and often more complex, tunes from the carol books, as well as arrangements of some more modern Christmas “classics.”

But because I’m an arranger and composer as well as a player, I have another string to my bow at Christmas. Since 2014, BBC Radio 3 has held a carol composers’ contest. The idea is that they publish a poem, and people send in their settings of those words for SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir, with or without piano accompaniment. Out of usually several hundred entries, the BBC then shortlist the six they consider best, their singers record them, and the recordings are published on the BBC website. People can then vote for the one they think is the best of all. All six get played in the week or so leading up to Christmas, and the winner will be sung live on air a few days before Christmas, then the recording played many times on Christmas Day.

I heard that I was not far off the short list in 2016, and this year I had even higher hopes, as I had a late draft of my carol run through a local church choir, and the message I got back from their musical director was “Potential winner.” Sadly, it still didn’t make the short list, but that’s the BBC for you. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worth publishing the score here, so those of you who are choral singers can try it. It’s only five pages long.

The words, I admit, are a bit naff – that was another of the comments I got from the choir. But the blame for that lies, not with me, but with Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s current Poet Laureate, who wrote these words in 2011. (See https://wordverseuniverse.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/the-bee-carol-duffy/ for the original words). But I hope that people will find my music to those words, albeit a slow melody and written in the minor key, to be fun to sing, and in no way depressing!

So, here’s the music:







Sunday, 11 November 2018

On Riches and Poverty

We hear a lot of sneers directed at the rich. Like “the 1 per cent,” “greedy” or “fat cats.” Today, I’ll ask: To what extent do the rich deserve these insults? Then, I’ll look at poverty, and ask: Why are so many people poor? And how might the problem of undeserved poverty be solved?

First, is being “rich” a relative or an absolute thing? Were, for example, the Roman emperors rich? At one level, they were indeed rich; they had far more money and resources than the people around them. At another level, because of economic expansion over the centuries, many Western people today can afford things the Roman emperors could not have dreamed of. Beef from Argentina, bacon from Denmark, wine from Chile, or out-of-season fruit from Morocco, for example. So, while absolute standard of living is important in determining whether or not someone is “rich,” it’s also necessary to look at what they enjoy relative to those around them.

I’ll briefly re-cap the economic fundamentals. It is natural for convivial human beings to create well-being. That is, to deliver what others are voluntarily willing to pay for. There are many ways to do this; every one of us must find the way or ways that best suits us. To support this vital function, and to encourage it to continue, a framework is necessary, in which each individual will receive just rewards in exchange for his or her skills and efforts.

In an earlier essay I identified four things this framework must provide. First, sound money. Second, property rights. Third, a system which implements objective, individual justice; that is, the condition in which each individual is treated, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others. And fourth, a free market, in which there are no arbitrary barriers or obstacles to who may trade and with whom.

There is, however, a fifth condition necessary before people can flourish economically; and that is a negative condition. Unlike today, there must be no privileged political class, that has the power to bleed individuals and the economy, and to use the proceeds for their own selfish gain, to enrich their supporters and cronies, or to fund their pet – and often nefarious – projects.

Riches

So, how can people become rich, or at least comfortably off? There are several ways. First, and very much foremost, by earning it. That is, by creating wealth through honest work and business in the free market. Not only is this by far the most praiseworthy means of building personal wealth; but it’s also the one which is natural for convivial human beings. In a free market with justice, good people can fully enjoy the well-being, which they have justly earned through delivering what others are voluntarily willing to pay for.

Unfortunately, the rapacious political classes and their cronies make it forever harder and harder for people to reap the rewards they deserve for their good work. They see the profit from honest business – that is, the excess of the value produced for others over the costs of producing that value – as a bad thing, not the unmitigated good which it really is. They seek to re-direct as much of that profit as they can to themselves, and to their cronies and supporters. To make things worse, many new business ventures today fail before they ever really get going. And for professionals (like me) who have developed strong and saleable skills, it’s worse yet; we are denied access to the market by bad, political “laws” that favour big companies over small ones.

A second way to get rich is through luck. For example, by inheriting the millions that Daddy earned, or by winning a big lottery prize. There is nothing wrong with these; but for obvious reasons, very few get rich in such ways. A third way to get rich is through canny investment; by providing resources to people who will use them well, in exchange for a share of the profits. The problem here is, that you must be already quite well off in order to do this at all.

Moving down the scale, another way to bring in money – often in large quantities – is to suck wealth out of the system like a parasite. For example, through asset stripping of companies, or through becoming adept at corporate politics. Further down again is scheming, gaming the system to your own advantage. For example, accepting subsidies, or lobbying for advantages or to harm your competitors. Then there is the criminal means; such as theft, fraud, intimidation and violence, as practiced by organizations like the Mafia. And at the very bottom of the scale is what Franz Oppenheimer called the “political means,” in essence, legalized robbery.

It’s plain from all this that – luck aside – it is extremely hard for anyone to become rich without either already being rich, or taking money from others by means parasitic, criminal or political. Thus, sneers directed at the rich are entirely justified, if their riches have been acquired by such means. Meanwhile, those who deserve to be comfortably off, or even to become rich, are drained of their earnings and life-chances by the criminal political class and their parasites and cronies. Further, these good people are often the targets of hatred and slurs from those that are draining them dry. So the rich get richer, the poor don’t get any better off, and those in the middle get screwed.

Poverty

The opposite of rich is poor. And like riches, poverty has both absolute and relative aspects. Clearly, in those Western countries which have had a history of relative economic freedom, most people are better off than those in third world countries with no such history. This is not surprising; for social structures, that are based on political power and cronyism rather than on the free market, virtually always result in a few rich and very many poor.

There are many reasons why individuals are, or become, poor. But all of them can, I think, be put into one of four categories. One, lack of access to the free market. Two, lack of ability to create wealth or well-being. Three, lack of just reward. And four, debt.

Lack of access to the free market can be due to a variety of causes. For example: Wars or political oppression. Regulatory burden, such as business licensing, or bad laws made to favour some economic actors over others. Tariffs, prohibitions or sanctions. Anti-business culture. Or minimum wage legislation, which prevents people not yet skilled enough to be worth the minimum wage from getting jobs at all. It’s sobering to realize that most, if not all, of these causes of lack of access to the free market are down to acts of political governments.

As to lack of ability to create wealth, there are two main groups of causes. First, things which are the individual’s own fault. For example, if they’re too lazy or too dishonest to use Franz Oppenheimer’s “economic means,” that is, honest work and fair exchange. And second, things which are no-one’s fault, like accident, illness or disability.

Lack of just reward can sometimes be caused by exploitation of the individual, for example by abusive management or by criminals. But more often, it’s caused by political action. For example, by heavy taxation. Or by deliberate currency inflation, making it impossible for people’s savings to keep pace with ever rising prices. Or by a dishonest, unstable banking and financial system. Or by a lack of respect for property rights.

Lastly, debt can be a self-caused source of poverty, such as when individuals have spent on credit beyond their means, or done real damage to others for which they must pay compensation. But debt for individuals can also be brought about by the deliberate actions of others. For example, overblown damages or maintenance payments imposed by a politicized legal system. Or a corrupt, gluttonous state that seeks any means possible to force its debts on to those it rules over.

Solutions to poverty

To look for solutions to poverty, I’ll re-arrange the causes I listed above according to who is at fault for each.

If an individual is poor through that individual’s own fault, the remedy is in the individual’s own hands. No more need be said than: reform your conduct, get earning, and if you’re still in debt, pull yourself out of it.

If, however, individuals are poor through someone else’s fault, then it must be the responsibility of those at fault to fix the problem. In today’s system, those at fault – common criminals excepted – are almost always the political class, their henchpersons or their corporate cronies. But the framework of justice, which I outlined above, would solve the great majority of these problems. Removing political operators and their cronies from positions of power and privilege, bringing them to justice as they deserve, and making them compensate their victims, would go a long way towards achieving this. And the combination of sound money, freedom of trade, property rights and objective justice will then be able to fix the problem for good.

Where individuals’ poverty is no-one’s fault, then it is appropriate to set up systems of insurance or mutual aid. Such schemes existed in the 19th century, for example the friendly societies. But they were elbowed out by politicized welfare states.

Welfare is a large subject, which demands an essay in itself.  But in the framework of justice I described, re-vitalization of private welfare schemes is one of three elements which I think can help to cure poverty. The second is removal of disincentives to saving for the future. And the third is non-politicized means of education and training for whatever skills are in demand. These elements together should be enough to ensure that no-one becomes poor through no fault of their own. But even so, voluntary charity is always available as a final back-stop.

To sum up

Today, a rapacious political class makes it far harder than it ought to be for people who deserve to be comfortably off, or even rich, to get what they deserve. Instead, good people are ripped off, and the benefits go to the state and its political class, and their cronies and supporters. The rich get richer, the poor don’t get any better off, and those in the middle get screwed.

Many of those, who today are rich, have not earned their riches, but got them through parasitism, cronyism or politics. Such individuals fully deserve all the sneers and slurs that we hear so often directed at “the rich.”

Undeserved poverty is often the fault of individuals and groups other than the people who are made poor. Leaving aside laziness and dishonesty, most poverty is caused by the acts of political governments and their parasites and cronies.

The problem of undeserved poverty can be solved by a combination of the following: Sound money. Property rights. Objective justice. The free market. Removal of the political class and their cronies from their positions of power and privilege, and bringing them to justice. Removal of disincentives to saving. Re-vitalization of private systems of insurance and mutual aid. And de-politicized systems of education and training.