Wednesday, June 28, 2006

What are the functions of the state?

Debating with Liberals is interesting, but it seems to me that some things they take as a matter of faith are wrong, and they do not understand why I take the views that differ. The main reasons why we differ is because of our core understanding of what the function of the state is and in what order of priority. In my view they are as follows:

  • Defence of the Realm.
  • Law, order and justice.
  • Social cohesion.
  • The creation of wealth.
Defence of the Realm

Surely the ultimate no brainer here? If you do not defend the realm you end up with no state in which to have Liberal ideas or any of your own ideas.

Law, order and justice

I think most Liberals would put this high on their list too as if you do not have laws you can't have things like property rights and then can't create wealth or much else. Whilst that is true there is a much more important reason for it and why it is number two on my list, which is that the lack of it causes social problems and threatens social cohesion. You can't get everyone to buy in to the justice system but you need as many people as possible to do so.

Social Cohesion

Why oh why is that anywhere I hear you ask. Simple really. Without it the state withers and dies and it is then unable to carry out objectives 1 and 2. As social cohesion breaks down, birth rates drop, children are brought up in less ideal circumstances etc. etc. leading to a reduced population with a reduced identity and will to defend the realm.

So I do think Government has some business here, but it is a very intractable issue as everyone takes different views. The best way of dealing with the issue is through leadership rather than law. One of the interesting things about David Cameron is that he is prepared to lead where he is not prepared to legislate which is a good thing.

The Creation of Wealth

I can't see any serious liberal opposition to this, and I suspect no one cares what Scargill thinks so I will leave it at that, bar commenting that economic liberalism is key to achieving it.

I think the order in which I place my priorities is what separates me from Liberals, whose key ideas from my point of view have been assimilated into the Conservative party.


Tabman said...

I haven't got any clearly articulated ideas on this, but I think "Defence of the Realm" needs a little unpacking, because the idea of the nation state is one on the decline due to the very success of globalising liberal tendencies.

Why I think this is the case is as follows:

- the main military battlefront in the C21st is not one between nations, its between ideaologies. Liberal Democracy vs Theocracy
- enviromental issues are no respector of nation states
- liberal ideas in trade are now so fundametal to the world economy that its difficult to see how protectionism could work in future. Put simply, how would we feed ourselves if we were physically cut off from the rest of the world's economy?

So yes, whilst the state has a duty to protect its citizens, it can no longer undertake that duty without in effect pooling its sovereignty with other like-minded countries and peoples.

cb said...

I consider myself a (small-l) liberal and I think that the functions of the state should be limited to protection against force, theft, fraud, to the enforcement of contracts, and so on.

Benedict White said...

Tabman, I can see your Euro fanatic tendencies coming through.

We pool sovereignty by agreeing to be part of NATO for example, without compromising our
nation state.

Ultimately the defence of the realm is too important to cede to others, but sharing in a
common defence strategy such as NATO makes sense. We still have our own weapons.

As to the battles of the 21st Century being an ideological one, they frequently are. They
require both military AND political means to deal with them. Incidently there is a larger threat
from China and its authoritarian ideology.

Whilst it is true that the nation state may look less important, given the nature of the world I
could not disagree more.

Benedict White said...

CB, So if you are a small l liberal, where do you stand on other issues, and indeed which way does your politics lean?

Tabman said...

"Tabman, I can see your Euro fanatic tendencies coming through."

Benedict, I can see your Tory Euro-preujdices coming through :-)

Read the comment again:

"So yes, whilst the state has a duty to protect its citizens, it can no longer undertake that duty without in effect pooling its sovereignty with other like-minded countries and peoples."

Isn't that exacty what NATO is? The Commonwealth? Nowhere did I mention Europe, yet you chose to highlight it.

It might surprise you that one can be in favour of greater European co-operation where appropriate (and, as I pointed out, there are many areas where issues are no respector of national boundaries) and at the same time be critical of the EU as it is currently structured, as I am.

Tabman said...

I would also add that whilst we might "have our own weapons", from what I read about Trident we wouldn't be able to fire them without asking the Americans first. That's hardly independent is it?

Benedict White said...

"Benedict, I can see your Tory Euro-preujdices coming through :-)"

No, I just could not resist the dig! Sorry...

However your discussions of things like NATO and the Commonwealth show the importance
of the nation state co-operating with other nation states rather than becoming obsolete, which
was the implication of your first comment, even if it turns out that is not what you meant.

On the trident issue, I have heard similar and agree. If there is a veto it is about as useful as a
chocolate teapot and we should build our own nuclear weapons even if it costs more.

cb said...

What do you mean by "other issues"? I already told how I think that the functions of the state should be limited. The other issues should be everybody's own affair.

I'm an independent. I have some sympathy for the Lib Dems, but they aren't liberal enough for me, especially in the economic issues. And the conservatives are too conservative for me, especially in the social issues.

Benedict White said...

As far as I can tell CB, that makes you the big L Liberal, with the Lib Dems the small l liberals.

cb said...

Traditionally a big-L liberal means a member of a Liberal party (but not necessarily a supporter of liberalism as an ideology), whereas a small-l liberal means a person, who is a supporter of liberalism as an ideology (but not necessarily a member of a Liberal party).

Tabman said...

Benedict - the key word there is "co-operating".

That implies some degree of choice in the matter. I would argue that in the current world that we live in we can't not co-operate; the only "choice" comes over the degree to which we do so and with whom we choose to co-operate (and in many cases there isn't any choice in that either). The idea of England "going it alone" on any issue that extends outside our borders, if it was anything other than myth in the first place, just doesn't work.

And before you mention Switzerland, the Swiss have been forced to change many of their ways, and those they haven't are largely because it suits larger economies, and their "clients", to leave Switzerland as it is.

Benedict White said...

We do have a choice about co-operating and we can and have gone it alone, in both the Falklands and Sierra Leone. In the former of course the SDP leader now Lord David Owen said we COULD not take them back and we should move on.

Our interests will not always lie with others and some times others will do some very silly things.

Tabman said...

I was thinking wider than just the military sphere.

And if you recall with the Falklands, there was the certain issue of Sidewinder missiles that proved crucial for Air Defence. Where did they come from? The USA.

Our defence industry is no longer unilateral.

Benedict White said...

" I was thinking wider than just the military sphere."

Well, we were talking about defence of the realm, though obviously sea levels rising is in effect an attack on the realm.

AS for our defence industry, not it is not a unilateral afair, and to some extent it has not been since the 30's.

Tabman said...

I agree with you re David Owen (splitter!) though :-)

I think the general point is that we are always going to have to work with other countries in supra-national blocks; best to accept that fact and work hard to shape them on our terms.

John R said...

Functions of the state:

To Generate Wealth?

What are the four largest money gatheres/distrubitors in the world?

In order:

Religion I would suggest is best kept out of political bodies, esp in the UK where we have the largest percentage of Atheists per population in the world (Source BBC) If I recall I think it was about 30%.

However, we have the religious hatred laws. (Please comment! No doubt a Labour bash will ensue) The laws of blasphemy to me as an Atheist are probably as distasteful to me as taking The Lords name in vein is to the devout religious whatever… How can agreement be found. Perhaps jumping up and asking “what is the purpose of religion”. Anyway, this is beyond State, but if the prime directive of the State is to generate wealth, Religion can not be overlooked. Indeed, many years ago I suspect it wasn’t. (Templars…oh gosh DaVinci – Holy Grail – Ark of the Covenant etc..)

Medicine Fair enough, but at what cost. You see, people have to be ill to require medicine. We pump out CO2, Lead, CO, etc... Health is in direct conflict with the state prime directives of government. "Health Management" is what makes money. This is in direct conflict with individual’s prime directive. Also, the abuse of the environment provides a dichotomy in this respect. Cheap food, lowest cost, maximising profits – If a supermarket is making £500m profit, where has that come from. (Yeah I appreciate they pay HUGE taxes) But at the end of the day, its been squeezed from the farmers, consumers and everyone in between. See Asdas profits here:

Oh, but you can’t . They have been removed from the report because
Note by the Department of Trade and Industry
In accordance with section 83(3) and (3A) of the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Secretary of State has excluded from the copies of the report, as laid before Parliament and as published, certain matters, publication of which appears to the Secretary of State to be against the public interest, or which he considers would not be in the public interest to disclose and which, in his opinion, would seriously and prejudicially affect certain interests.

Interesting eh...?

.Insurance...gosh dont get me started. Insurance TAX... etc... although the responsibility of self to protect other from your liabilites should be apparent, to many a dodgey tradesman it isnt. (Simplified case I know) However, whilst I am obligated to buy insurance from private firm for protection as dictated by the state (car insurance, ok, it my CHOICE to drive) I feel that the states stipulation lines the pockets of private firms. (Generating wealth - but not to the state.[Taxes aside] Is this an argument for nationalisation?)

Which leaves WAR... a biggie. And the biggest wealth mover of all. Bomb Iraq - steal their oil... yes good for the wealth of our state. But surely we have proved here that our state has obligations about wealth to other states too. Consider how such a small group of islands such as the British Isles has so much wealth. WAR. Should we give it back? Its all well and good for us to sit here today imposing democracy upon others, but lest us not forget where out wealth came from.

My point is that which ever government flavour (Lib/Tory/New New Labour) the basic premise Ben has argued for here (Function of the state) is just about a perfect dichotomy of the individuals "function", in a idealist world anyway (i.e. "no one wants WAR or to be ill"...etc...)

In this respect any state-system based on the four tenants put forward is flawed. What is derived from the application of the solution is merely temporary because there is no fix. From time to time, a (small l)iberal attitude will please the people, and from time to time a more “rigorous” attitude (kick out the immigrants!) will be in flavour. Hence, I suggest that no one party has all the fixes. Its transient at best.

Speaking of immigrants, I heard the home secretary state that ILLEGAL immigrants are vital to our economy. Again, what an absurd dichotomy that something illegal is both necessary and permitted. I suppose paying cash in hand £3 per hour generates wealth, or rather exploits it. What’s the difference? Is it ethical at this low level and at the level of government?

Benedict White said...

Tabman, do we really have to work with other countries? Such as Prussia against Napoleon. I thought we had been doing that for ages.

I am pleased we agree on David Owen.

Benedict White said...

Mr John.. Where to start...

I said the prime directive of the state was Defence of the Realm, with the creation of wealth 4th on my list, though I would concede they are all linked to a greater or lesser extent.

Do you have a source for your proposition that war, medicine, religion and insurance are the largest money gatherers/ distributors? I would have though transport would be on there as well as food and housing as there are lots of people involved in them.

You say "In this respect any state-system based on the four tenants put forward is flawed. What is derived from the application of the solution is merely temporary because there is no fix."

Well, I don't think there are any permanent fixes, so I don't see that as a flaw. Perhaps you have an idea for a permanent fix, or a different set of things which are the prime directives of the state?

John R said...

Ben, If I did have the fix, I'd run for a political position myself.

I think tabman has a strong starting point, that whilst we are now in a glabal village, (good or bad is debatable) the state can not protect its citizens without pooling soverignty with those who would be like minded. To this end, are we not now all citizens of the global community? Look at our food sources, clothing sources, fuel. These are net imports. The UK is pharma and financial/IT services heavy. If all the countries of the world decided to protect their citizens by either restricting exports of resources or increasing prices what would happen. Take for example OPEC. So, these guys have oil under their feet, but OPEC tell them how much to dig up!! With the EURO + European Laws affecting our way of life here, (new Euro Business rules come into effect soon - watch those £1m per year fund managers get out sourced to Europe!) our ability to protect OUR (as in this country) sovereignty is diminishing. The question is - how far will it go and what the consequences? Should we globalize and reduce everying to the dollar/euro/yen? (Notice no GBP!) and standarise everything to one size fits all? Would the cost of protecting soverignty under these conditions be too high economically? I know in a capitalist society which will win out... "sell em enough rope and they'ill hang themselves!"

Benedict White said...

We have always pooled sovereignty on a case by case basis, forming alliances of various sorts for various reasons to protect our interests and always will. We have for the last 150 years changed allies less often then we did in the past and that is good because it leads to stability.

On the trading front we used to be a net importer of food before the second world war, so there is no change there either.

I have seen no argument as to why defence of the realm should not stay top.

Tabman said...

Ben - another thought. I am for pragamtic interaction at the most appropriate level.

You argue that Conservatives are pragmatic, but most of the Tory reaction to the EU is emotional:

- "Never give up the pound"
- "Want the Queen's head on our currency / symbol of our independence"
- "Never subsume to Brussels authority"

etc etc

Surely the rational thing to do would be to examine each on a case by case basis, not rule out under all circumstances.

PS - you are very lucky to have such activity on your blog; most novice bloggers wait months to get a single comment!

Benedict White said...

Interesting comments Tabman, Perhaps i've almost got you converted :-)

On the Eu, pound etc. your looking at us dealing with it on an emotional level is a bit like going to one of those loony aledgedly Muslim groups and assuming all Muslims are extreame. In short it is the one liners that get the head lines not the deeper underlying argument.

Quite a few of us have been against much of the Euro project not because we don't like Europe, but because we do. We recognise there are differences between countries and see that as a positive thing.

Various different people in our party have differing reasons for being against the Euro. not the least of which is that at the last minute they rejected our suggested name "Quantum Unit of International Denomination, which I think you woudl agree is supra national and could appeal anywhere. Of course it would have been known by it's acronym.. QUID.

Actually there are sound reasons for objecting to it, not the least of which was a lack of trust on our part that all of its emembers would be fiscally responsible and that they would not be punished either. We were right and I think that debate is dead now.

On the Brussels issue it appears the Lib Dems are comming around to our view that moving power up is not always a good thing.

As an observation on the "European Project" is that i feel too many political leaders in Europe want to get knowm for their part in building it, rather than considering what it is they are trying to build and the correct pace at which to build it.

On the blog front, my firts post which was a sort of "oh well, I got a blog by accident" had a post in reply fairly quickly.

I may have no got the bug. On one ranking system I am around the 70 mark, or number 4 on politics. I have also found that I am refered to by some directories I was not aware of.

Interesting... I wonder if I should unleash the ruthless inner self publicist? After all I can blame it all on the Lib Dems (Well Bullseye anyway).

John R said...

I'm not sure I can agree that the Tory response is emotional. One of the keys to public speaking is to NOT alienate a minority. The more abstract a speech is, then typically the more people can find meaning within it. Good speakers (Blair and Cameron) will use this tactic. Think about this; "We all want the RIGHT thing...don't we?" Well, yes we do; that universally appeals. Even the statement "pragmatic at the most appropriate level" is ambiguous, but nonetheless appealing. What exactly is that level of appropriateness? Buy who’s judgement? And when? On EVERY case by case basis?

For me, this is the issue of politics. Depending upon the level of description, i.e. "big picture" or "small details", the same thing can often appeal to different people who say they're Tory or Lib Dem just because the issue is described differently. This is manifest in the tabloids. I would argue that the daily rags (Sun/Mirror/Express/Star etc…) are "big picture" and "black or white" in their descriptions of issues which are labelled as "raving Tory or bleeding heart liberal or Looney left" which in themselves are ambiguous "big picture" labels. The trouble is, they appeal directly to the readership!

I think as we are all agreeing here, solutions to complex issues are never complete, but a shift in paradigm or belief of the body politic make a solution acceptable. This also has its problems; specifically the fight against global terrorism. (Another ambiguity- Global , what EVERYWHERE?) and therefore the presupposed belief that it's acceptable to stop and search, have "designated areas", put scanners in tube stations, bring in ID cards etc... I can get upset by these trends, but I know it’s only a transient period. I see the error of the ways and the flaws and its cost. (And its purpose) People will at sometime (at some level!) decide it’s inappropriate and a new government will be elected. This is like trading stocks, you can not FORCE the price your way, you have to buy into what’s happening now to profit. I fundamentally disagree with this, but I am a consumer in a competitive market place of free economy and private enterprise. As such, it’s my duty to generate wealth and social cohesion(?) Why fight the masses? Join them no? When the tide swings enough, it will be favourable to be on the other side. I’m afraid this to me is what politics is; adapt to the winning side and exploit it. Why fight it?

Would you say this is liberal approach (small l) or conservative approach?

Just a point to note, BEN, “We still have our own weapons.” I read in one of the aforementioned “black and white” tabloids that Mr Brown wants to support Trident

What about the conservative view? Is this appropriate at some level to spend £10bn on this project in the name of defending the realm? That's a lot of generated wealth being invested/spent/wasted. (delete as appropriate)

Benedict White said...

John R, I will be writing a whole piece on the laughably named "war on terror" so if you would like to email me links to information you think I should consider please do. I may have given the game away that I am not going to be singing its praises from the roof tops though...

However as I won't be able to write much over the next two days I expect to get it done over the weekend.

I also wonder if we are not reaching an understanding that pragmatism is a very important part of governing which of course is anti ideology. In taht case maybe we are all Conservatives but just arguing over what we feel pragmatic about?

John R said...


Maybe we're all idealogical pragmatists but arguing as to whether thats liberal or not? Or is it closer to a secular society with localised governence? Instead of going global, go distributed. It seems to work in I.T. where Mainframe systems are replaced by distributed computing...look at the proliferation of the internet.

Benedict White said...

Interesting points John R, but if I can comment on IT alone, it seems bizarre to me that Government is not content with going for big IT solutions it is looking for massive ones, where in rality a lot of smaller competimg systems written to the same standard would do a better job....

But the old habits of Whitehall die hard.

(A good thing in the military, not so useful for moving forward)

Anonymous said...

Why not continue this discussion in the Liberal Views forum with more participants?

Benedict White said...

Anonymous, I don't mind if people want to debate elsewhere, I started this blog by accident, and have decided to use it to explain my views.

If people want to discuss my views they are much more than welcome.

Anonymous said...

Ummm... What I meant ia that you might be interested to join the Liberal Views -forum. The participants are liberal-minded people from different parties.

Benedict White said...

Fair enough, Anonymous, if I get the time I might pop over and have a look.