Friday, 28 November 2014

Hot Air and Justice

(Neil's Note: This one comes from 2007, but it's very relevant right now.)

One night, I had a dream.

In my dream, I was on the jury in a court of law. The judge had a long wig and a smug expression, the prosecutor a smaller wig and an evil-looking grin. The defence counsel's seat was empty. And in the dock, gagged and unable to speak, was someone who looked more than a bit like me.

"This case", began the judge, "has been brought against Human Civilization and all its shareholders and employees. You, Mr Human" - waving a hand towards the dock - "and those you represent, stand accused of causing catastrophic warming of your planet, by polluting it with emissions of hot air, and in particular of a foul gas called carbon dioxide. The penalty for causing this warming is that you should all be forced to stop flying in aeroplanes, driving in cars, or doing anything else that causes that foul gas to be emitted.

"Mr Green", said the judge, signalling towards the prosecutor. "You have the floor".

"Thank you, Your Honour" said Mr Green in a smarmy, self-satisfied voice. "The facts of the case are clear; there is no denying them. Human civilization emits carbon dioxide, and over the last century has been emitting more and more. Global temperatures over the last century have gone up too. Many well qualified scientists say that the cause of the warming is very probably the hot air - I'm sorry, I mean carbon dioxide - emitted by human activities.

"Many people, some of them scientists, believe that, if human civilization doesn't stop emitting this gas, there will be abrupt, catastrophic warming in the next century. The effects of this warming, some scientists say, will include huge rises in the sea level, more and worse droughts and hurricanes, extinction of species, mass migrations and total economic disruption. And the consequences have been estimated to be so disastrous that we must take strong and severe action NOW! to stop all this happening".

The man in the dock struggled with his gag, but to no avail.

"I call Mrs Fear as my first witness", said Mr Green.

Mrs Fear was a large, buxom lady who was a voluble and rather incoherent witness. Her evidence, in a nutshell, was: This is the worst problem we've ever faced! Everybody agrees it's all the fault of those horrid, greedy capitalists, entrepreneurs and hard workers, with their business and industry and whadyoumacallit. Everybody knows they aren't interested in anything but making themselves rich. It's terrible. TERRIBLE! And why doesn't somebody DO something about it?

"I next call Professor Storm", said Mr Green.

The Professor was neat, bearded and pedantic. He showed us, at great speed, charts and graphs which, so he said, proved that the warming was real, that it was out of the ordinary, and that it was caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide. He told us that many scientists, funded by political governments, had spent the last fifteen years and more developing models of the Earth's climate. And that they all - well, mostly - agreed that catastrophic warming was inevitable if we didn't halt our carbon emissions now.

I scribbled a question, and had it handed to the judge. He pulled a wry face, but asked my question anyway. "These climate models which predict big warming in the future - how well do they explain the temperature measurements made in the past?"

"The data don't matter", answered the Professor. "We are basing recommendations on the models".

My second question caused the judge to look even sourer. "How do we know that more carbon dioxide causes higher temperatures, and not, perhaps, the other way round?"

"The models say so", replied the Professor.

At my third question, the judge looked sternly at me, and said, "You jurors aren't here to ask awkward questions. You're here to find the defendant guilty". And then, after a pause, "I'm sorry, I mean find whether the defendant is guilty".

The man in the dock squirmed and tried to speak. Seeing this, the judge said, "All right, I'll ask the question. Aren't there other factors, such as variability of the Sun, which affect global temperatures, and how do these compare in significance with human-emitted carbon dioxide?"

"Of course", said the Professor, "there are other factors. But they don't affect the consensus among the scientists who are being bribed to hype the issue - I'm sorry, being paid to report on the issue. They all think that human emissions of carbon dioxide are the cause of the problem".

The Professor continued, with maps and more charts, which seemed to show great increases in droughts and hurricanes in recent decades. I knew these data were dubious at best, but there didn't seem to be much point in challenging them.

The Professor told us about the horrors of rising sea levels - a rise of three hundred feet would wipe out almost the whole of eastern England. And finally, he told us about Nicholas Stern, who with a large team, all funded by the taxes we had paid, estimated the costs of the damage (supposedly, I said to myself) to be caused by this (unproven, I reminded myself) human-caused warming. The figure was staggeringly large - big enough to tempt the gullible into thinking that any other outcome would probably be preferable.

I scribbled a question on my last scrap of paper. "Why are Stern's figures for the damage several times higher than those of others who have tried to estimate the same things?" The usher gave me an angry look, but still took the question to the judge.

"You again!" said the judge to me in a voice of thunder. "I'll have you thrown out of court if you ask one more impertinent question". Then, to the Professor, "Please continue, Professor. Ignore this troublemaker".

Professor Storm had almost finished. He ended by saying, "Ten years ago, environmentalists said that we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse. I believe we have now reached that point".

Next, Mr Green called Professor Perrill, an expert on risk. He told us about the precautionary principle, which the European Union had mandated to be used on all environmental issues. "This means that action must be taken", he said, "even if there is doubt over how real or how big the problem is. It also means that the burden of proof is shifted. It is for those alleged to be causing a problem to prove that their actions do not threaten any risk of harm. And absence of evidence of risk is not to be taken as evidence of absence of risk".

When Professor Perrill had finished, the judge asked Mr Green, "Is that your last witness?" "Yes, Your Honour" replied Mr Green.

"Right", said the judge. "Now it's back to you, Mr Green, for your summing-up".

The man in the dock rolled his eyeballs, and my neighbour - having finally twigged that something bad was going on - scribbled a message for the judge.

The judge read the message, and laughed. "Doesn't the defence get to present its case? Ha, ha, ha! You jurymen are behind the times. You ought to know that Mr Human, and all the other flat-earthers that dispute the reality or the seriousness of human-caused catastrophic global warming, aren't to be allowed access to the media any more. And they aren't to be allowed any other forum where they can persuade people, either. That includes this court."

Mr Green the prosecutor gave his summing-up, which was more of the above.

"Now", said the judge to us, "it is time for you to consider your verdict. You must use only the evidence, which has been presented to you in this court. And I will re-phrase what Professor Perrill said: Absence of evidence of guilt is not evidence of absence of guilt.

"You must find Mr Human and his civilization guilty of causing catastrophic global warming if he has not completely proved his innocence beyond all possible doubt.

"And you must reach your decision quickly. I give you two reasons for this. First, I'm going to find Mr Human and all his friends guilty anyway, so what you the jury think is entirely academic and you shouldn't waste time on it. And second, I've a plane to catch. In fact", looking at his watch, "my limo to the airport should be arriving any time now".

The judge smiled. "Would you like to know where I'm going? I'm off to an environmentalist conference in Bali. Having presided over the conviction of Mr Human and his civilization, it will be fun for me to watch the politicians plan the punishment. Knowing, of course, that the bans they will propose on activities like flying and driving won't apply to persons of quality like me".

Why the UN Declaration of Human Rights Isn't Quite Right

(From the archives: September 26th, 2003)

Almost everyone thinks that human rights are a good thing. And almost all governments today, even the most tyrannical, pay lip-service to ideals of human rights. Yet, looking around the world, we see governments cynically trampling over basic rights, like property, privacy, the right not to be arbitrarily stopped or detained and the presumption of innocence. And this is happening even in supposedly advanced Western countries, such as Britain and the USA.

So, what is wrong with human rights? This is a hard question. To give myself a chance of answering it, I decided to look at one of the best known statements of human rights. I chose the United Nations' "Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” dating from 1948. I chose it because it is brief (less than 1,750 words) and its text is easily accessible. I chose it, too, because it is one of the earliest formal expressions of the modern concept of human rights. And therefore, I hoped it would give me some pointers to the roots of rights.

I tried, first, to understand the mind-set of those who wrote, and those who approved, this Declaration. They knew that people were outraged by what the Nazis, in particular, had done. They wanted to be seen to do something to safeguard people against future aggressions by similar governments. But they were also establishment people, government people. They did not see us human beings as individuals. Rather, they saw us merely as members of nation-states. The phrase “the country or territory to which a person belongs,” in article 2 of the Declaration, gives the game away.

And they were people of their times. In 1948, socialism seemed to be the wave of the future. So, alongside well-tried Enlightenment ideals like individual liberty and property, they placed little-tried socialist ideals such as social security and "free" education. It is no surprise, then, that the Declaration reads as something of a mish-mash.

I tried, too, to understand what the Declaration was and was not. Those who wrote it were not trying to make a treaty, to be enforced by the United Nations or by anyone else. Their stated purpose was to provide an educational tool, to spread respect for human rights and freedoms. But, by listing so many human rights and freedoms so succinctly, they did more. They provided a rudimentary touch-stone, by which individuals can tell whether or not their (and others') rights are being violated, whether by criminal individuals or by governments.

With this in mind, I set out to explore the Declaration. I soon found that it contained a class of rights, all of which had something in common. All these rights result from prohibitions of actions that harm others. I decided to call these fundamental rights. A fundamental right arises out of a prohibition of the form, "Thou shalt not…,” followed by something nasty.

Fundamental rights enshrined in the Declaration include: The right to life (in the sense of not being murdered), "Thou shalt not kill.” The right to security of person, "Thou shalt not do violence.” The rights to non-interference with home and family, "Thou shalt not invade anyone's home or encroach on their family.” The right to privacy, "Thou shalt not encroach on anyone's privacy.” The right of free and full consent before marriage, "Thou shalt not coerce anyone into marriage.” The right not to be deprived of your property, "Thou shalt not steal.”

Few people would disagree that these fundamental rights should be promoted and safeguarded in any civilized society. The beauty of fundamental rights, too, is that they are easy to measure respect for. With a fundamental right, such as the right to life, you always know where you are. You can check at any moment that you are respecting that right for others. Yes, you can say to yourself, I haven't killed anyone. I'm OK on that one. And an hour later, you can check again. Yes, I still haven't killed anyone. I'm still OK.

Mixed in with the fundamental rights, I found another class of rights with something in common. These rights, too, arise from prohibitions; but prohibitions of a different form. Here, the prohibition begins "Thou shalt not obstruct anyone's freedom to…,” and is followed by something nice. I decided to call these rights of non-impedance.

Rights of non-impedance I found to include: The right to liberty, "Thou shalt not obstruct anyone's freedom to do what they want.” The right to freedom of movement and residence, "Thou shalt not obstruct anyone's freedom to go or live where they wish.” The right to freedom of opinion, "Thou shalt not obstruct anyone's freedom to hold their opinions.” The right to communicate freely, "Thou shalt not obstruct anyone's freedom to seek, receive or give out information.”

Unlike fundamental rights, though, rights of non-impedance carry a rider, which must be added at the end. That is, "…provided they do not violate anyone else's rights.” This makes respect for these rights harder to measure than respect for fundamental rights. But, except in rare cases – where someone is violating, or setting themselves to violate, someone else's rights – we should still regard these prohibitions as absolute.

Thus far, I had not considered the rationale for, or form of, government. But it seems that to assure even fundamental rights requires some form of government. Prohibitions against theft and murder, for example, require a system of law to support them, as long as thieves and murderers exist. And they need an apparatus to bring the thieves and murderers to justice, by force if necessary.

There seems at first sight to be a contradiction here. In the name of assuring rights – such as to life and property – we are to deny the violators the satisfaction of their own rights, such as liberty and freedom of movement? But the contradiction is not a real one. For what we are talking about here is human rights. By violating others' rights, the perpetrators show themselves less than human. We should not, therefore, be worried about violating their rights. So long, of course, as the punishment is in proportion to the crime.

There is another problem too. Some rights conflict with each other. My right of free movement from A to B may conflict with your right of privacy in, and enjoyment of, your property which lies between. There are, of course, civilized solutions to these problems. In this particular case, public (open to all) roads and footpaths. But such solutions do require some form of government, at the very least a just mechanism for resolving disputes.

The ideal of a minimal government, which assures fundamental and non-impedance rights and does nothing more, is at the root of the world-view held by many lovers of freedom. So, how does the Declaration approach the object and role of government? It does not try to say what government is for, but rather includes a number of what I call "wisdoms.” What these represent is wisdom, accumulated in Western societies over centuries, about the best ways found so far to assure human rights. Wisdoms in the Declaration include: Equality before the law. Independent and impartial courts. The presumption of innocence until proved guilty. Periodic elections to government.

There is a problem, though. For introducing government, even minimal government, weakens the absolute prohibitions, which underpin fundamental human rights. "Thou shalt not kill,” when government is introduced, becomes "Thou shalt not kill without good reason.” If you wonder why the weasel-word "arbitrary" appears several times in the Declaration – arbitrary arrest, or arbitrary deprivation of property, for example – this is an attempt to bring the "good reason" factor into play.

The danger here is that a government, even one that mostly keeps to the wisdoms, may become bad. It may start inventing its own rationalizations for violating human rights. "Thou shalt not encroach on anyone's privacy without good reason,” for example, is no protection for our rights against a government that decides that it wants to snoop into our e-mails. And the wisdoms in the Declaration, even as a whole, are not enough to ensure that governments really do respect and assure fundamental rights and rights of non-impedance.

But the Declaration contains more yet. The right to work. A certain minimum standard of living. Rest and leisure. Social security. Education, which the recipients do not have to pay for directly. Most people would broadly agree with the gist of most of these aspirations, if not necessarily the detail. There comes a problem, though, when these aspirations are elevated to the status of rights. For they then imply a claim, by some on others, for positive action. They do not arise out of prohibitions, "Thou shalt not.” Rather, they represent demands, such as "Thou shalt help the economically incompetent" and "Thou shalt pay for the education of other people's children.”

When government puts its force behind such demands, they are, in essence, being made at gun-point. These demands, made in this way, are in direct contradiction of at least one fundamental right – not to be deprived of our property. And they are far less reasonable than the aspirations we started out with. Why should we be required to shell out to support the lazy, the dishonest, or the unpleasant? Or their troublesome children? Particularly when we have better things to do with our fairly-earned money. For example, to make our homes better places to live, or to save for our pensions.

There is another problem too. If an aspiration such as a minimum standard of living is elevated into a right, you never know where you are. You can't be sure that you are doing enough to respect the right. When you check an hour later, you still can't be sure. Is there some boy in Liberia, for example, you should have given a penny to in that last hour? You don't know. You can never be sure you are OK. And it is almost impossible to defend yourself from an accusation that you aren't respecting such a right.

In many cases, though, there is an easy way to turn an aspiration into a real right of non-impedance. The right to work, for example, can be turned into the right not to be impeded in seeking work. The right to a minimum standard of living turns into the right not to be impeded in obtaining the best standard of living you can earn. (In other words, governments shouldn't ever do anything that damages the free-market economy. If only…) The right to social security turns into the right not to be prevented from insuring against, for example, accident, illness or disability.

There is something else wrong with the Declaration. At least one right, which you would expect to be in there, is not. This is the right which the American founding fathers put third behind only life and liberty. Why is the right to pursue happiness missing from the Declaration? Maybe its makers didn't really want us to be happy.

Lastly, the cop-out clause, Article 29(2). This allows limitations of our rights "for the purpose of… meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” This gives politicians licence to violate our rights for anything they make out to be for the general welfare. Whether "excused" by the latest moral panic, or terrorist attack, or brainwave of some bureaucrat for a new way to inconvenience and belittle us, they can use this "general welfare" licence to violate any of our rights they choose. And they do.

Despite its faults, though, the UN Declaration of Human Rights is a valuable document. For it helped to establish, in very many people's minds, the idea that there are limits beyond which no government may go. That some things are right, and others wrong, no matter what politicians say. It does not, however, go nearly far enough in defending the human individual against bad government.

And changes in thinking about human rights since 1948 have moved against the individual rather than for. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not, for example, even include the right to own property!

The ideas, which pass for "human rights" today, aren't quite right. They don't form, as they should, a strong intellectual force to help defend us human beings against bad governments. So, how do we lovers of freedom fix this problem?

We might, perhaps, contemplate a Declaration of Individual Rights. It would be a massive piece of work, as it would have to identify just how far a government may go in restricting one individual's rights for the benefit of other individuals. I suspect that anyone who undertook this task would find themselves writing a Third Treatise of Government, on a similar if not greater scale to John Locke's Second Treatise. And, when all was written, we would have to do a major missionary job to get people's support for it.

I, personally, do not intend to try this exercise. Instead, I am going to see if I can find illumination by turning the problem on its head. Historically, human rights have as often as not been phrased in a converse form, as human duties. I'm going to go back to these roots. Rights are easy to claim and hard to measure. Duties may, perhaps, be harder to evade and easier to measure? I'm going to do some thinking, not about rights, but about duties.

I'll keep you posted with what I find.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Why Re-distribution of Wealth is Immoral

(From the archives: August 19th, 2003)

All governments today re-distribute some people's money to others. Or, as it is more commonly known, re-distribute wealth. No matter whether of the political right or left, they all take lots of our earned money away from us productive people – far, far more than the dubious services they provide are worth to us.

How they spend the product of their pillage does, indeed, vary from one place to another. Some like to pour money into grandiose social schemes like the British NHS, that consume vast amounts of resources without ever properly delivering the services they are supposed to provide. Others prefer to create and expand huge bureaucracies to enforce ever more onerous regulations, and to collect heavy fines and penalties from those who disobey them. Increasingly, though, governments are learning from each other, and doing both.

This forced re-distribution of our earned money must have some moral basis. Mustn't it? It would be interesting, I thought, to look at some of the ideas, which are brought up as supposed justifications for re-distributory taxation.

I will begin with "the brotherhood of Man.” (And sisterhood, too). This idea is a very old one, going back at least to the Stoics. We human beings are supposed to be, in a sense, one vast family. And it is incumbent upon us to behave towards each other in a sprit of brotherhood.

I myself am a strong supporter of the brotherhood-of-Man ideal. But I add an important rider: Brotherhood is a two-way process.

This shows up in the moral concept I call negative brotherhood. If you don't commit acts that harm me, I won't commit acts that harm you. A well-known formulation of negative brotherhood is Confucius' Golden Rule: Don't do to others what you wouldn't like to have done to yourself.

There is a positive side to brotherhood as well. By our actions, we can make ourselves valuable to others. And they, in turn, can make themselves valuable to us. Different people are good at different things, and different people desire different things. Hence this process of positive brotherhood – in other words, trade – can greatly improve life for everyone.

The brotherhood of Man, then, does indeed provide a good moral basis for a society. But such a society will not re-distribute money or wealth. For re-distribution is not a two-way, brotherly exchange, but a one-way drain on those who suffer it. Indeed, a society genuinely based on the brotherhood of Man will have two characteristics, which we lovers of freedom admire. One, the rule of law, to underpin negative brotherhood. Two, no restraints on positive brotherhood. In other words, free trade in a free market.

Next comes the idea that the strong should support the weak. For this idea to justify re-distribution, it must be taken in the enforceable sense. That is to say, not only do the strong have a moral obligation to help the weak, but this obligation is sufficiently powerful that it is morally OK for others to force them to do so.

This principle, if applied only to economics, might appear to justify re-distribution of money from the rich to the poor. But, if this principle that the strong can be forced to support the weak is generally valid, it should apply in other areas of life as well. For example, the socially strong – those who find it easy to make friendships and relationships – should be forced to help the socially weak, those who find these things difficult. There is no evidence of this happening. And the politically strong, those in power, would be required to support the politically weak, the powerless and unrepresented. But this is not what actually happens. Indeed, re-distribution of money by governments, being oppression of the politically weak by the politically strong, is a direct contradiction to the principle.

There remains, however, the possibility that the strong have a moral obligation to support the weak, but not one so powerful that anyone has a right to compel it. This is, indeed, the ideal of charity. But several conditions must be added. For charity to be possible, the helpers must have an idea of who it is they are helping. If possible, there must be personal contact between helpers and helped. The helped owe the helpers, at the very least, thanks and appreciation in return. And, if there is something more tangible that they could do to help those who help them, they should offer what they can give. But today's systems of re-distribution of wealth meet none of these conditions. They are not in any way charitable.

On to the third candidate. This is the idea that those who are in need have a prior claim on us. That we have an obligation to do what is necessary to get their needs satisfied. And, by implication, that they have a corresponding obligation to help us when we are in need.

This candidate seems more promising. But there are still questions. First, what does "in need" mean? To answer this, we need to ask, what are human needs? I will give my own list, but will try not to depart too far from the conventional view.

First, there are physical needs, such as food, air, water, sleep, shelter, health, sex. Second, psychological needs, including privacy, security, dignity and the freedom to use your own common sense. Third, social needs, for example appreciation and recognition, sense of community, trust, love and sense of justice. Fourth, personal development needs, such as challenge, achievement and growth, leading towards fulfilment of your human potential.

The question now arises, which of these needs are so important that they justify forcing others to satisfy them? Plainly, some can't be that important. Governments do not, for example, force people to provide sex lives for those who can't get them for themselves. And rightly so. To force people to prostitute themselves would be an abomination, a denial of all respect for human beings.

So, helping the needy in the wide sense cannot be the justification we are looking for. Perhaps, then, it is only those in economic need who have a claim on us? Perhaps it does not matter if some people are denied satisfaction of needs such as freedom, justice, community, appreciation, love (and sex), as long as the economically poor are helped?

But this idea, that the economically poor have a claim on others overriding the satisfaction of those others' own needs, has a practical flaw. For, if those that purport to take this view genuinely believed it, they would order their own lives, and devote their own energies, for the benefit of the poor. They would try to emulate, for example, what Mother Teresa did in India, or what Quintin Hogg did in London in the 19th century. Do they? Not.

There is another question to be asked, too. Why is it, that people are – or become – poor? There are many reasons, but they all fall into one of three classes. First, things which are their own fault. Second, things which are no-one's fault. Third, things which are someone else's fault.

If individuals' poverty is due to their own fault – for example, if they are persistently too lazy or too dishonest to earn a living in a free market – then the question must be asked, why should we worry? If they won't behave as our brothers, why should we care about them? Their welfare certainly should not be at the top of our priority list. And what if, on top of these failings, they are surly, bigoted, disruptive, violent, or criminal? Or if they promote or support political policies that harm or inconvenience us? We would be better off if they starved to death – and not only financially.

Failure to earn, which is due to no-one's fault, is a completely different matter. Accident, illness, unemployment or disability can hit anyone. But it is easy to conceive of mechanisms to help people in these situations, which do not require any re-distribution. Historically, the extended family has provided one solution. Mutual aid societies have provided another. No-one should mind paying a reasonable insurance premium to ensure that they are not left destitute if they suffer an injury, or something else which stops them earning and is no-one's fault.

The third, and actually by far the commonest, case is that in which individuals' poverty, or failure to earn, is caused by someone else's fault. People may be exploited, for example by the violent or the fraudulent. Or there may be obstacles, such as bureaucratic permits and regulations, placed in the way of their earning a living through honest business and trade. Or politicians may make policies that depress the economy. In these cases, the perpetrators of the exploitations, obstructions or policies are the ones that ought to compensate the people who are impoverished by them. Re-distribution of the fairly earned wealth of innocent third parties is neither necessary nor right.

Our third candidate has failed. Approacheth the fourth. This is exemplified by the Old Labour election slogan from the 1970s, "Let's make the rich squeal.”

If there is any moral basis at all for soaking the rich, it must be that their gains were ill-gotten. If their riches were acquired through violence, or fraud or manipulation, or abuse of political power, for example, then clearly they are criminals, and due process of law gives us a right to take those riches away from them. If they inherited Daddy's millions, or won the Lottery, some of us may perhaps feel a little envious towards them. But no-one has any right to take anything away from them. If, on the other hand, their wealth was gained through their own efforts, through developing and using their talents and making themselves useful to others, they deserve to be congratulated and cherished, not robbed.

Besides which, re-distribution today does not hit just the rich. No-one can be considered rich, for example, who cannot see their way to a comfortable retirement. Yet today, saving for our own pensions, far from being made easier, is being made harder. To the extent that, unless there is radical change, most people aged under about 55 today are never going to get pensions sufficient to live on.

Our fifth and final candidate is St. Paul's dictum, "The love of money is the root of all evil.” Just a little consideration shows this is nonsense. There is nothing evil about wanting to be comfortably off. There is nothing evil about wanting to use your fairly-earned money to enjoy life, and to safeguard your own future and the future of those you care about.

Our five candidates have been and gone, and the vacancy is still not filled. There remains one possibility.

Could it be, perhaps, that there is no moral basis for re-distribution at all? Could it be that all the stuff about brotherhood, the strong helping the weak, the needs of the (sigh) needy, is no more than smoke-screen or rationalization? Could it be that the main reason those that favour re-distribution do so, is simply that they want to take away our wealth? (Recognizing, of course, that they may also have subsidiary reasons – for example, vote-buying, feathering their own nests and rewarding their henchpersons).

Could it be, as our fourth and fifth candidates seemed to suggest, that the driving force behind the re-distribution of our earned wealth is hatred – hatred of money, hatred of wealth itself, and hatred of those who earn it? Could the re-distribution of our wealth be, in essence, a kind of quasi-religious persecution?

This explanation seems to fit the facts. It explains why we never get any thanks or appreciation for all the money we are forced to pay. It explains why all the politicians' plans for institutions like the NHS are always the same; just throw lots more tax money into the pot. It explains the unreasoning hatred that many supporters of re-distribution show towards business, industry, and the free market. It explains why politicians like to make lots of tough new laws with harsh financial penalties attached to them. It explains, too, why more than half a century of welfare states hasn't solved the problem of poverty.

Once we accept this explanation, our attitude towards those responsible hardens. We see through their rationalizations to the huge fraud that lies behind them. We see that they are not our brothers. We see that they have, persistently and maliciously, failed to live up to one of the most ancient and important of all human moral rules: Thou shalt not steal.

Where do we go from here? Traditionally, the response to religious persecution has been to go somewhere else more tolerant. That is hard in this case. For practically every government in the world re-distributes wealth away from those who honestly earn it. We need a more radical solution.

Whatever the eventual solution, I think the first step is obvious. We need to help good, productive people understand how badly they have been hoodwinked. And we need to help them identify the culprits.

One final question. Just why is it, that so many of those that favour re-distribution of our wealth show such a fear of the free market? I offer for your consideration one possible answer. In a truly free market, they would be surplus to human requirements.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Why Today's Laws are Not Law

(From the archives: August 4th, 2003)

Back in the 1920s, an eminent judge was heard to remark: “Three-fourths of legislation is unnecessary. And the other fourth is mischievous”. Do you wonder, if he was miraculously brought back to life today, what he might think?

Politicians around the world are bombarding us with barrages of crazier and crazier "laws." And they are doing it faster, and faster. Hardly a week passes without some politician trumpeting plans for yet more tough new laws, and harsh penalties against those who break them. Almost everyone senses that something has gone badly wrong with the law.

For example, I know a director of a tour operating company in England. The British government has made a law requiring his company, whenever they sell travel arrangements to anyone, to offer also travel insurance. If one of the staff fails to do this, the directors of the company can be charged with a criminal offence!

Another friend is a wine merchant in Connecticut, USA. He reports that, inside the last three years, several US state governments have declared shipping wine across state lines to be criminal. And shipping wine to some states - for example Florida - is classified as a felony, in other words, a grave offence meriting harsh punishment.

A local taxi driver told me that his wife is no longer allowed to drive his car when they go away together. This is because the local authority has decreed that only licensed taxi drivers may drive cars registered as taxis, even on private journeys.

Officials confiscate nail-scissors out of people’s hand baggage at airports, because they just might attack someone with them. There is a proposal to ban the old Scottish recipe, haggis. Both Greek and Thai politicians want to stop people playing computer games. Oregon firefighters were forbidden to tackle a large forest fire in what environmentalists had designated a wilderness area, so endangering the homes of 17,000 people.

And politicians are always finding new rationalizations for their favourite pastime, taking away our earned wealth. For example, taxes to "combat" (non-existent) human-caused global warming. In Britain, a law called IR35 - of which I myself am a victim - designed to suppress one-man software consultancies. And proposals to increase, yet again, fines for motoring offences, supposedly to build up a fund to compensate the victims of crime!

Is this all a big joke? I think not. For, while piling on more and more laws and regulations that are mad, or bad, or both, the politicians are also perverting time-honoured procedures of law. In Britain, for example, they are chipping away at the right to trial by jury. And they are trying hard to overturn the most important principle in criminal law, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Meanwhile, police seize people's computers on suspicion of holding porn. They can take DNA samples and fingerprints from anyone they arrest, even if not accused of any crime. Their, and their masters', favourite words are crackdown and clampdown. They carry out dawn raids against those accused of "hate crimes" - laws which can turn, for example, a careless comment or facial gesture into a "crime." There are spy cameras all over the place, waiting to catch us out. And bureaucrats are being encouraged to confiscate large sums from "criminals." They are even being set targets for how much they must confiscate.

How can we understand what has gone wrong with law? We must go back to basics, and ask, what is law for? And what is the relationship between law and laws?

I do not have space here to review the history of law. Nor to discuss the differences between common law systems, as in England and the USA, and civil law systems as in continental Europe. I will simply take a common-sense view of law, one with which most people would have broadly agreed in, say, the last quarter of the 19th century.

There are three main divisions of law. Historically first is personal law, which regulates things like marriages, divorces and wills. Second is the civil law. This provides for resolution of disputes, and for compensation of harms done to others through negligence or irresponsibility. And the third division, criminal law, is concerned with acts outside the bounds of society, acts that are - in essence - not becoming of a human being, and therefore deserving of punishment over and above mere compensation of victims.

I will not comment further on personal law; it is not the main problem area today. As to civil law, the basics are still working, up to a point. Although the doctrine known as strict liability, or liability without fault, means that no-one is safe from legal assault, however responsibly and carefully they behave.

In the common-sense view, and historically, there is a sharp distinction between civil wrongs and criminal offences. For a crime requires, not only an act, but also a state of mind - so-called mens rea. For an act to be criminal, the perpetrator must also intend to commit a crime. For example, to kill someone, or to steal or damage someone's property. But today, this distinction has disappeared. Politicians rush to apply penalties to acts or omissions, which no-one using common sense would think of as criminal. No-one today is safe from being punished for "crimes," however innocent they are of any real wrong-doing.

It is time to review fundamentals. I ask first, for whose benefit does law exist? Almost everyone would agree that law exists for the benefit of the people it serves - for the public good. I think of John Locke's definition of the public good under law: "the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for."

I must catch myself here. There is one group, whose interests are clearly not served by law - the criminals. But this does not contradict Locke's view. For he said also that a criminal "becomes degenerate, and declares himself to quit the principles of human nature, and to be a noxious creature." In the common-sense view, crimes - real crimes, violations of the law - are sub-human acts, behaviour not befitting members of society.

The law, then, taken as a whole, should serve the interests of all good people. But what of laws; where do they fit? Laws are - or should be - the guidelines, which implement the law. Law provides the framework, and laws provide - should provide - the practical application.

The law has an important feature. It is dynamic, not static. Like a living thing, it can adapt to changing conditions. There are two mechanisms for this. First, when new situations arise in cases at law, judges make decisions based on precedent and interpretation. And these decisions become guidelines for future cases, and so, in essence, become laws. Second, when new knowledge becomes available on how people should behave to make life better for everyone, lawmakers can lay down new guidelines to match. These two mechanisms have familiar names: case-law and statute.

From this common-sense view of law as serving the interests of all good people, and laws as its practical guidelines, flow several consequences. First, every law must be made for a clearly stated reason. Everyone must be able to understand this reason, and - even if they dislike that law personally - can approve of it as of benefit to good people in general. Laws should never be based on whims, lies or rationalizations.

Second, lawmakers must recognize that obeying laws has costs, and not just financial ones. Costs in time, costs in freedom, costs in pleasure, costs in convenience or independence. Laws should never impose greater costs on people than the benefit they are supposed to provide. In particular, no law should be made whose purpose is to impose costs on people. And no law to pre-empt a problem can be valid, unless the cost if that problem happens, multiplied by the chance of it happening, is greater than the costs of obeying that law.

Third, laws must not demean people. They must not constrain people so tightly that they lose the right to use their own common sense and judgement. Fourth, laws must not intentionally favour some individuals or groups against others. Laws must not be made for personal gain, to benefit particular lobbies, to build bureaucratic empires, to harm particular groups of people, or to buy popularity with some at the expense of others.

Fifth, laws must not be made in the heat of the moment, for example in swift reaction to a particularly heinous act or to a media-induced moral panic. Every law must be slowly, carefully, painstakingly considered, including its costs and down-sides. Sixth, laws must be as few as possible, as simple as possible and as clear as possible. Only then can individuals satisfy themselves, easily and at any time, that what they are doing is within the law.

Valid laws - laws consistent with common-sense law, laws made for the benefit of all good people - should satisfy all six of these rules. But today's laws fail on several of the counts. If you doubt this, look at the examples above, and think what may have been the motives of those that lobbied for, and those that made, those laws. Our friend from the 1920s, if he were brought back to life today, would probably throw up his hands in horror, and declare that all laws being made now are mischievous.

It is obvious, after a little consideration, that a lot of today's laws are simply not right. For the philosophical basis of laws made today is quite opposite to that of common-sense law. John Locke's remarks show that, as he understood it, human beings are naturally good, and criminality is rare and an aberration. And common sense supports this view. On the other hand, today's laws seem to be made from the standpoint that we are all naturally bad, and need to be forcibly controlled. That every one of us would be committing real crimes if we thought we could get away with it.

Bad laws, said Edmund Burke in the 18th century, are the worst sort of tyranny. He was quite right. And that is exactly what we are suffering today. The law, the very institution which should defend good people from those that want to harm us, has been taken over by hi-jackers. These hi-jackers are making bad laws to damage, and to try to destroy, our liberties, our lifestyles, and our livelihoods. How long will it be before they start taking our lives too?

Judges (and on occasions, it must be said, juries) are not entirely innocent of the perversion of the law, which has taken place over the last century or so, and particularly over the last 50 years. But by far the greatest blame lies with the politicians, lobbyists and vested interests. With amazing foresight, Locke described exactly the situation we are in today. “Constant frequent meetings of the legislative, and long continuations of their assemblies, without necessary occasion, could not but be burdensome to the people, and must necessarily in time produce more dangerous inconveniences”.

So, what can we lovers of freedom do? First, we need to understand the nature of our task. Resisting individual bad laws is not enough. Trying to solve the problem bad law by bad law is like fighting a hydra. For every bad law we knock down, lovers of tyranny, with a few pen-strokes, can raise ten new bad laws in its place.

What we must do is wider than just resisting bad laws. We must change people's perceptions. We must re-claim the law. We need to make it possible for the law to work as it should. We need to make it work for the benefit of us good, peaceful, honest people who respect others' rights, rather than against us.

Second, we need to make plain by our words and actions, that bad laws have no moral force. We should not criticize the victims of bad laws if they evade them, break them, or even flout them. Although, on the other hand, we should strongly censure those that break the law - for example, the violently aggressive, thieves and the fraudulent.

Third, we need to reflect on the nature of those that are doing these things to us. There is no worse crime than hi-jacking the law. Those that lobby for bad laws, those that make bad laws, and those that call for strict enforcement of bad laws, are degenerates and noxious creatures. Many people are coming to understand this. There is already a powerful undercurrent of hatred and contempt for politicians and lobbyists. We need to help this process along. And how do we do that? Simply by telling the truth.

Fourth, those of us who have contact with policemen and policewomen need to work on them. Most individual police are not, in the round, bad people. But they have been hoodwinked into giving their support to a legal system that has become perverted. They must learn to distinguish real crimes, violations of the law, from trumped-up ones. And they must concentrate on their job - dissuading and catching the small minority of real criminals.

I will end with more words of John Locke. Written more than 300 years ago, they are as relevant to us today as they were in Locke's time.

“But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel, what they lie under, and whither they are going, ‘tis not to be wondered, that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands, which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first enacted”.

Chapter 50. Of the Galactic Marching Band

There were still twelve days to go before the first and biggest of the ceremonies, which was due on the last Saturday of October.

The Galactic embassy was a hive of activity. Parts of it were already in full use, housing and serving the many Galactics who had already arrived. Other parts were still being built. There were many Garut’nim busy assembling things. Even busier were a species called the Piantur. They looked like tall, purple penguins, and Michael told me they were the Galaxy’s top engineers – 18th in the rich-list.

Ramael and Hazael met us when we arrived. With them, I was surprised to see, were Cristina and Helen. “We didn’t want to go back to our old life in Amsterdam,” Cristina said. “So we stayed with Ramael and Hazael in the ’mobile. Now, we have taken jobs on the staff of the Embassy, and this is our home.”

Hazael gave us copies of the detailed plans for the twelve ceremonies, which he had put together based on my list. Looking at the plans, I noticed that the Galactic Marching Band was due to play a leading part. “That might be fun,” I said to Gabriel, “for those of us, who are musicians, to play in the band at the big ceremony.” “It can be organized, I think,” he said with a smile.

As it turned out, only Marie and I from the Team were musically inclined. Gabriel took us to meet Mostro of the Vivar, the captain of the band. He was from the planet Vivro-2, and his species’ own induction into the Galaxy had been famous – enough so, for Bart to have used it as one of the examples in his report on us.

Mostro was physically closer to human than any other Galactic I had yet met. In fact, if his skin colour had had a little more pink and a little less blue, he could have passed as a Scandinavian.

Now, there is almost no discrimination in the Galaxy. Beyond, of course, the obvious and rational discrimination; those who behave well are treated well, and those that behave badly are treated badly. But the Galactic Marching Band was an exception to this rule. To qualify, you had to have exactly two legs, at least one windpipe, and a certain degree of musical ability.

But all was not lost for musicians of other bodily configurations. For quadrupeds, for instance, there was the Galactic Trotting Band, which had been centre stage at the ceremonies for the Brjemych. And, for insect species, the Galactic Six-legged Harmony, and for spiders the Galactic Eightfold Way. Regrettably, species with odd numbers of legs, such as the Galant’I, had to be left out of the fun.

Marie and I both qualified on legs and windpipes. But musical ability? Mostro said to us, “I will audition you the day after tomorrow.” Michael took Marie back to her home to pick up her flute, while Gabriel organized the loan to me, from a local enthusiast, of an E flat bass tuba.

Galactic musical notation is, at first sight, very different from Earthly. But it follows almost exactly the same principles. So, it is not hard to learn; nor is it hard to transcribe between the two. And a march, after all, is a march, is a march.

The audition was a breeze. After I played a few bars to Mostro, he said, “That is good, but you could play louder.” I obliged. Of course, that was playing while sitting – marching is another matter. So, Marie and I had several days of tough practice ahead.

But I determined to do yet more. With the help of several Band members, I re-arranged for the Band “The Liberty Bell” and a march I myself had composed years before. And we translated them into Galactic notation, just in time for the Band to learn them. It was a hectic week’s work.

Lily, on the other hand, was interested less in the band than in the aerial display and fly-past which would conclude the ceremony. “I want to pilot in the display,” she said to Gabriel, in my hearing. “You and Michael will be on the podium, won’t you? So can I please borrow your ’mobile for the ceremony?”

Gabriel paused, then said, “We can do better than that. Othriel and his partner Mirandin will be with us on the podium, and their ’mobile is not so far planned to be used in the ceremonies. It is the smallest and easiest to pilot model we make. It is much the same size as an Earthly family car. It has only two passenger seats in the back.”

We went to meet Othriel and Mirandin. Their robes were a dark, lustrous green. Othriel was taller, and looked older, than any Seraph I had yet met. He told us that he had now completed his stint as Chief Seraph, and had been offered – and had accepted – the post of Galactic ambassador to Earth.

Mirandin, like Gavantchin, presented herself as female. She was quiet and soft-spoken, but she also laughed a lot. And it became clear how this partnership worked. Othriel dealt with matters mental, and Mirandin with matters physical, including piloting.

When Lily asked Mirandin if she could pilot her ’mobile in the display, she said, “Yes, of course, as long as you first satisfy me that you are a good enough pilot.” So, Mirandin took us to her mobile. I rode in the back. The leather seat had been much sat in; for Othriel was a back seat passenger. It was also soft, deep and luxurious.

Being near cities, we avoided interfering with Earthly air traffic by first going straight up like a lift, to a height of more than fifteen kilometres. Then we flew north and west, to near Churchill, Manitoba, where it was polar bear season. There were hundreds of the critters. And to think that politicians had tried to tell us that we were endangering them.

* * *

After Lily had passed her test with Mirandin, we went to see Bart Vorsprong, who had arrived a day or so before. He had another Tefla with him, whom he introduced as Benno Adam. “Benno is a field historian,” said Bart. “That means, he collects eye-witness accounts of historical events, and assembles them so his readers can understand the processes at work. He has come here to find out about your Awakening, so he can write a book about it.”

“I would like to talk to you, and to each of your Team,” said Benno. “To get your view of what happened.”

“I doubt that we the Team can be of much help,” I replied. “After all, we were on Perinent until just a few weeks ago.” “I understand,” said Benno. “But you have had a large-scale view of the Awakening. Your evidence will be of great value to me.”

I made an appointment for the day after the big ceremony.

* * *

It was Saturday. It was Washington DC. It was the end of October. It was early afternoon. It was cloudless and cold, not far above freezing. We, the Galactic Marching Band, assembled near the Capitol. Our uniforms were black and yellow, very bright and striking.

Normally, the band had 48 members, not counting Mostro – a 12x4 formation. With Marie and me as well, we had 50 – so Mostro had ordered 10x5. Marie with her flute was in the second rank on the right, and I with the tuba was in the middle of the back rank.

We set off, playing the Liberty Bell. There were thousands – no, hundreds of thousands – of people lining the Mall. They cheered.

There was no “security” presence. Nor any need for one; for Ramael was hovering his ’mobile just ahead of us and to our right. In any case, with so many good people around us, if anyone had tried to make trouble they would have been very quickly either shot or lynched.

I looked up at Ramael’s ’mobile during a few bars’ rest, and saw Cristina waving to me. She has the best seat in the house, I thought.

It was three kilometres down the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, where Rrrela would welcome humans into the Galaxy. And it took a while. For, even not counting us humans, there were 20 different species among the players in the Galactic Marching Band, and all had to go at the pace of the slowest. Which was about three-quarters the pace of an Earthly marching band.

About half-way down, I turned the music, and my march was next. I had named it “The March Without a Name.” And I fondly remembered the Lewis Carroll-esque conversation I had had with Mostro…

“The march has no name?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “The name of the march is ‘The March Without a Name.’”

“Ah, I see. So the march is called ‘Without a Name?’”

“No. The name of the march is called ‘Sine Nomine.’”

It went on for a while. Then Mostro cried, “So what is the march?”

In reply, I played the first four bars on the tuba…

We marched on, and came to the Memorial, ending with the Liberty Bell again. We pulled away a little to the right, and on our left there came up a parade of a hundred or so Earthly movers and shakers, who had followed us from the Capitol. More than half of them, I am proud to say, members of our first, second or third waves.

Rrrela Himself stood on the steps of the Memorial to welcome us into the Galaxy. He was flanked by Othriel and Mirandin. Behind him were Michael, Gabriel, Balzo, Bart Vorsprong, Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee, and ten of the Team – but not Lily and Hoong, who were completing final preparations for the display. Behind them, again, were several hundred other Galactics, including Olgal and Benno Adam.

Rrrela’s speech was not memorable. But what he said didn’t have to be memorable. The pictures told it all. Humans joining the Galactic fold at last. Peace, prosperity and justice beckoned.

Then came the display, led by Ramael, who suddenly took his ’mobile up, and looped it. Then the other Seraphimobiles arrived. There were about two dozen of them, and they performed a silent, complex looking dance above the heads of the crowd. Among them was Mirandin’s ’mobile, piloted by Lily and co-piloted by Hoong. Lily was doing a grand job; no casual observer could have told that one of the pilots wasn’t a Seraph.

And then, higher up and not so silent, came the interstellar ships. Four Toronur, three Piantur. Two roaring Garut’nim cargo pods.

And, last and loudest, Harv’I of the Elo’I.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Government versus the state

Many people seem to think that government and the political state are the same thing. But they’re not. In fact, they’re all but opposites.

A true government would be a “justice provider.” By this I mean an institution or network of institutions, which honestly delivers common sense justice to all.

Such a justice provider would, if it existed, be well worth paying for. For it would uphold the public good; that is, as John Locke identified, the good of every individual among the governed, real criminals excepted. It would be uncompromisingly for the benefit of all individual, civil human beings who subscribe to it. It would uphold objective justice, peace and human rights. It would resolve disputes justly. It would discourage uncivil conduct. And it would impose no limits – beyond justice, the law and respect for rights – on human freedom, prosperity or progress. Furthermore, it would claim no rights other than those which its subscribers explicitly delegated to it. Otherwise put: Government should be an umpire, and no more.

In contrast, today’s political governments – I call them “gunvermints” – impose the rule of states and their political classes on those in the geographical areas they control. And I’d say: Government is an umpire, but the state is a vampire.

States are corrupt, unjust, anti-individual and a drain on civil people. They make aggressive wars, and carry out acts of terrorism. They implement harmful agendas. Far from delivering “law and order,” they impose legislation, most of which is bad, and they order people around. They harass people, and violate human rights and dignity, while offering lame excuses like “health and safety” and “national security.” They claim rights for state functionaries to violate the law. They inflate their currencies. And they take away huge chunks of our earnings, and re-distribute the proceeds to their cronies and supporters.

It’s important to recognize that any “government” which is not for the public good, that is, which acts otherwise than for the good of every civil individual among the governed, cannot be a legitimate government. If you’re a civil human being, and a “government” isn’t a nett benefit to you, then it isn’t a government. It’s a criminal gang.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Why you shouldn’t vote for politicians

(Neil's Note I thought I'd put this extract from "Honest Common Sense" up today, in view of US mid-term elections.)

There are at least three very good reasons why you shouldn’t vote for any politician. First and most obviously, there is all but zero chance that one individual’s vote can ever make a difference, even in which politician gets elected. And a far smaller chance that one individual’s vote can ever influence any policy, even in the slightest.

Second, there’s not much difference between the main parties anyway. In the UK, choosing between the Hoary Gories, the Slaver Party and the Slob Dims is like choosing between being hung, being shot, or being beheaded with an axe. In the USA, the choice between Repressive Reptiles and Depressive Demons doesn’t look much more appealing.

And third, there’s a very strong moral reason why you should never vote for any mainstream political party. For to vote for a political party is to underwrite both that party, and the system within which it exists. It will be taken as an expression of satisfaction with the party’s previous policies, however evil. It enables the next political government, whether or not you voted for it and however badly it behaves, to claim that you gave it an endorsement of legitimacy. It also violates the Law of No Aiding or Abetting, by showing support for the party’s agenda – which, for all the mainstream parties today, is to harm innocent people, to violate rights and to restrict or destroy freedom.

If the candidate or candidates you vote for are not elected, your vote is shown to be utterly worthless. If, on the other hand, they do get elected, you may have a more serious problem. For a vote for a politician or a political party, that acquires government power, violates the Law of No Harm. It’s an assault against all the innocent people who are, or will be, harmed by the agenda of that politician or party.

Now, many people find that, in the politics of the country they live in, they hate one particular party above all the others. They are tempted to vote for a different party, thinking they’re voting for “the lesser of two evils.” For example, those who hate Labour or Democrats are tempted to vote Tory or Republican, and vice versa. But the lesser of two (or more) evils is still evil. And to vote for an evil is itself an evil.

Let me make this even clearer. Say you voted for a political party, and once in power they make policies that harm an innocent person. If, later on, you fall on hard times and need help that he can provide, what do you think his attitude is likely to be? Will he say, “Of course, I’ll happily sacrifice my needs and desires for your sake.” Or will he say, “You voted Labour (or Republican), you bastard. You assaulted me. I won’t give you a f***ing penny?”

Or will he say something like the following, perhaps?

Only pricks play politics,
And only thickheads vote for dickheads.

As to touted proposals to make voting compulsory, this is an assault on a basic freedom, the right to say “no.” And to argue that forcing people to vote would make the resulting governments more legitimate is simply crazy.

For a government is only legitimate if it upholds the public good. That is, in John Locke’s words: “the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for.” So, if a government makes legislation that damages the life of any non-criminal individual (for example, by fining them for not voting), that makes it illegitimate. And how many people voted for it is irrelevant.

I suppose it can, in principle, be OK to vote for someone who is a genuine human being, and who isn’t in any way part of the political system. But the only individuals it can ever be OK to vote for are those who are both scrupulously honest, and uncompromisingly committed to common sense justice and to human rights, freedom and prosperity. And in today’s conditions, such people keep as far away from (sniff) politics as they possibly can.