By Dan Greene
I don’t vote anymore. I did for many years with a sincere belief that democracy was the best way for human civilisations to organize themselves. I even looked down on – and argued with – non-voters with derivations of the old “People fought for your right to vote” drivel that people now say to me. I now describe myself as a libertarian and a market anarchist.
So you can imagine how uninterested I was when the UK government called a general election on May 7th of this year. However, while talking to a minarchist friend of mine in the US he asked me the question “If you had to vote in this election then who would it be for?” I was kind of struck dumb for a second because while the Libertarian Party in the US may be a big party (although it seems to make absolutely no real impact as far as I understand it) there is nothing comparable to said party in this country.
So instead of picking a party I found myself beginning to explain how a libertarian political option just simply cannot exist right now in the UK. Yes, there is a libertarian party here but they are small, stand no candidates and many libertarians I know in the UK have more of an anarchist leaning and simply aren’t interested in them. So why can’t a strong libertarian party exist in the UK right now?
One of the first problems in the UK is that while the Labour Party pretend to be ‘centre-left’ and the Conservative Party pretend to be ‘centre-right’ the fact is that neither party has a strong ideology anymore and in reality there isn’t one on the left and one on the right, they’re bang in the middle practically embracing each other in this mixed economic mess where we have a sort of freeish market where business is taxed and regulated by government on one hand and massive state programs like our socialised health care system (the NHS) exist on the other (that would be the left hand presumably).
So you have this problem that when people like me advocate real capitalism – by which I mean an unregulated free market which the government has no involvement in many mistake the system we find ourselves under to be the capitalism I am describing and of course think I am advocating the current system, which I am not.
So right away we have a problem, most don’t make a distinction between capitalism and corporatism – where the government can control business through regulation and taxation and make it harder for people to enter the market place by placing so many hurdles in their way and are basically able to pick winners and losers. But when I try to explain this to my anti-capitalist friends they can’t seem to understand that things that enrage them about what they call capitalism, such as governments bailing out banks is not what real free market capitalism is all about.
The idea that evil capitalists always exploit workers has pretty much been debunked (primarily by Hans-Herman Hoppe) we’re not going to go into it in too much depth but as a basic example, if I set up a company and hire three guys to make my product I am putting off my share of the money till the products sell (which they might not) whereas the workers I hire get paid every month regardless. It’s the same thing as putting off £10 today for £100 (that you may not get) in a month (my apologies to Mr Hoppe for my over simplification).
That’s the most basic and important point for me. The idea of what capitalism is is distorted badly in this country and it doesn’t help when you have high-profile clowns like Russell Brand adding to the distortion (although at least we agree on the not voting thing). The reason this is important is because it leads into many of the other problems of trying to have political libertarianism become popular in this country. Problems like “what about the National Health Service?”
The National Health Service (NHS) is the system of socialised medicine in the UK. The mainstream media very often liken it to the “closest thing to a national religion”. Yes, unfortunately when it comes to the NHS the rose tinted glasses are firmly on many of the population, I have spent more time than I would like in NHS hospitals and I can’t understand all the love it gets personally. Like when people defend the government building and maintaining public roads when they’re clearly in a mess.
Now, the problem for any would-be political party in the UK is that if you don’t pander to the NHS then every other party and the mainstream media will all attack you can call you heartless and cold and before you know it the phone has stopped ringing and you are irrelevant.
We have actually seen this in action with the UK Independence party (UKIP). Now some libertarians were (and some still are) excited in these parts about UKIP. My understanding is that they came from a more libertarian place originally. I even recall their leader Nigel Farage on BBC’s “Question Time” show years ago talking about the need to move to a more insurance based healthcare system – a statement which he would definitely not make now. But if you look at UKIP’s manifesto these days you will see that they too are pandering to the NHS (some think specifically to target older, disillusioned Labour voters).
But that’s just how it is. Even though the NHS is wildly inefficient and increasingly expensive there is a weird attitude here to it almost like “Look how enlightened we are to have our benevolent medical system that everyone can access”. Now you can look at a previous article of mine or anywhere you like for arguments against socialised medicine, that’s not the point right now. The point here is that a libertarian party would surely be running on a campaign of cutting government spending to as low as it possibly can get. You can’t do that with a huge socialised healthcare beast.
So if our fictional libertarian party opposed the NHS then, as I said they would be attacked viciously by the other parties, mainstream media and other political and religious groups. On the other hand if they wanted to keep the NHS (and not vastly reduce it, a move that would have the same vicious reaction from all the same players) then how could they be called a libertarian party? And what libertarians would actually vote for them?
Even though it is deeply flawed and cuts off all actual choice of healthcare the strength of emotional feeling towards the NHS at this time is simply far too strong for a party to run on a platform of ending or even reducing it. It would be a non-starter and not just the NHS, a libertarian party would presumably cut many things people get ‘free’ here (replace free in your mind with my money stolen through taxation) and people just love their ‘free’ stuff.
Of course, while the NHS and all the rest of these social programs are not free for me since I’m paying for it through high taxation for many people here it is free. Thanks to the massive welfare state in the UK there are whole generations of families even, who have never worked a day in their lives and live at the expense of everyone who does work.
I recall watching a documentary with my wife about ordinary life in communist East Germany. We were absolutely shocked by the amount of people (it wasn’t that many but we thought one was too many) who said that they would prefer to be living back in East Germany as opposed to modern Germany. It wasn’t until we heard their reasons that it started to click for us. Many common reasons were guaranteed jobs and child care and it got us thinking how many people view the state as a kind of benevolent father figure who takes care of them. I know so many people who’s lives would shatter if the state went away because the state gave them a house (and sends people out for ‘free’ to fix anything that may need it), money every week and free school for the kids. All things they badly need.
So again, I will presume that our fictitious libertarian party in the UK, being libertarian would again have to opt for very minimal government spending so the massive welfare state that exists would have to be properly cut back. If you listen closely enough you can almost hear the other politicians, mainstream media, religious groups, social groups all grabbing their pitchforks and heading for Twitter screaming “You don’t care about the poor you evil bastards!” As in our previous case the reverse is also true, if a libertarian party only wanted a very modest cut in welfare or no cut at all then a) how are they a libertarian party? and b) what self respecting libertarians would actually vote for them?
So, while I identify as an anarchist and don’t believe that a minimal government can be sustained. It’s easy to see the reason why there is no strong libertarian party on the sidelines with a little representation and a chance of more (like the Green Party or UKIP) is this odd cultural problem. It’s not cool to talk up capitalism and when you do the term is often confused with the corporatism that we live under as opposed to free market capitalism. The NHS is unfortunately a sacred cow that no politician dare suggest we even shave never mind kill. Opposing the NHS is the kiss of death in the media in the UK currently and until it crashes it will keep it’s appeal. Then we have state infantilization of the people on a mass scale via the magic of the almighty welfare state that so many complain about but no one actually wants to cut in any real way.
So what would be needed would be a full-on cultural change that involves a large section of the public and at least a portion of the mainstream media – especially the mainstream media because despite all the great alternative media that is now available old school mainstream media scare tactics still work here and they work well. The mainstream media in the UK always try to shut down any kind of radical change, that’s why the ‘yes’ side was demonized by almost every newspaper and TV station (with the notable exception of the Glasgow Herald) during the Scottish independence referendum that is also why they are going so hard after UKIP right now. So this kind of extreme change could take a generation or two to come along would, in my opinion have to occur before we could see fertile ground for political libertarianism to take root in the UK.
I’m done with politics anyway personally and I choose to disengage as much as I can from the state in my ordinary life, not try to play them at their own game. Oh and my answer to the voting question my friend in the US asked “I would draw a little box, write my dogs name ‘Barney’ and vote for him.”