Monday, 16 August 2010

Greg Philo replies. And a Bit about Teh Interwebz and this whole Damn Dirty Game we call 'Blogging'

There are two types of Blogger. There are those who run behind rhetorical trench systems like the left-wing 'THATCHER, CUTS! Waaaaa!' defensive line. Then they accuse you of denying them freedom of speech for disagreeing (but not before bleating "isn't he beastly" to get some moral support from their followers) as you systematically demolish them, like David Marsden (@dmarsd) whose rhetorical skills failed to flourish on Twitter this afternoon. He then fled the field, without his shield. Feel free to go over to his blog and twitter feed and troll the fuck out of the cowardly lefty mong. Many righties too are exactly the same, content to shout into the ether to an adoring crowd of like-minds, spouting ever more ludicrous, politically extreme nonsense, like the dick-head calling himself Huddie with whom I debated at Tory Aardvark's place this afternoon. He basically replaced 'Jews' with 'Muslims', but otherwise acccepted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (positions brilliantly lampooned by larry teabag in his left/right quiz question: "who do you hate more, Jews or Muslims?) Huddie and Marsden are bloggers content to shout into the ether to a group of like-minded people who will accept ever more extreme view points, so long as they drift towards their view's pole. Criticism is an anathema. That way lies tribal extremeisms of facsim, communism and anarchism.

Then there's People like Professor Greg Philo, my good friends NorthBriton45, Devil's Kitchen, and even the likes of Sunny Hundal, with whom I've crossed swords in cyber and meat-space and, I hope, me, who seem to accept the tone of the debate on the 'teh interwebz' is not as perhaps it should be, but who seem to enjoy debating (vigorously) with people with whom one profoundly disagrees. Last night I wrote this post in response to Prof. Philo's CiF piece. I even e-mailed him in the same provocative terms of the post to get a response. The exchange is below:

I Just read your comment is free article.

You’re a disgrace to your university.

That is all.

Yet 74% of the population don’t think so and the wealthiest groups were more in favour than the lower income ones. As a very wealthy acquaintance said to me, if the government did stabilise its finances, then the stock market would go through the roof and we would all get our 20% back. Funny old world eh?



I think I addressed the popularity of this proposal. The electorate define “rich” as “richer than me”. You’re asking people whether they want OTHER people to pay for bills they get the benefit from. Arbitrary confiscation of assets by government has been tried in the past. Can you point to anywhere where it has worked?

Bueller? BUELLER?

And you think the stock market would like this proposal?

You’re Delusional.

Stick to the pretend subjects and leave the economics to grown-ups, eh?

You seem overly worked up about this. The stock market and the wealthiest groups are supremely good at adapting to circumstances, they make whatever concessions are necessary and have done so for at least 150 years, try reading Hansard and look up Lord Hailsham (then Quentin Hogg) lecturing his party in the 1940ies about the need to accept the welfare state. Here is a reply I posted which might help,

One criticism made in the responses on the Guardian website is that 'the rich won't allow/accept it' but the poll results show the richest groups slightly more in favour than the low income groups. We asked informally some wealthy people why this might be so, and concern for social order was one reason, another that if the government finances were stabilised, then 'the stock market would go through the roof' and they would get their 20% back anyway. Also the plan does not necessitate immediate payment. It is about taking liability for the debt and would be payed off as a form of death duty or through low interest payments. The key issue is to take wealth which is effectively dead and trapped in the
higher reaches of an inflated property market and use it for investment in areas such as new technologies, research and proper funding of centres of excellence as well as meeting key social needs. This is nothing to do with funding incompetent spending, but about an efficient use of national wealth for the benefit of the whole population.


Greg Philo


It's to your credit that you're entering into debate.

But 'the rich' already pay disproportionately into the tax pot, and blaming a group as diverse as this because 'they' caused the credit crunch and 'we' didn't smacks of rhetoric used elsewhere against Jews and Kulaks and I am sure this is not what you mean.

You're saying it could be offset and paid later, so it's really an inheritance tax, and we've already got one of them, so ask for loopholes to be withdrawn by all means, but if you did, your 20% then looks like a tax cut!

It's difficult to see 'the rich' paying any more than they do without extreme coercion. The opinion of one or two very rich Marxists notwithstanding.

I don't think you've thought this one through.

Do you mind if I put this exchange on my blog?



It can't be surprising that the rich should pay the most in absolute terms since they have most of the money. The poorest 10% have 'negative wealth' as it is termed, i.e., less than nothing, only debts. You are right that one way of approaching this is to see it as a one off additional death duty, but the liability could also be realised by paying a low rate of interest on the money owed, which would then be further reduced by inflation.

There is certainly no intention here to stigmatize anyone. Free markets obey their own rules and the movement of so much of the nations assets into property had strange consequences. So for example, in Glasgow's west end , from where I am writing, a townhouse flat in 1980 cost £25,000. It would now be worth £400,000. I am not sure that the grateful owner really worked for this money and personally I would rather that a portion of it went back into financing national growth, new technologies, a healthy population and even a brilliant education system. I can't see it is that odd as a suggestion. Of course you are welcome to put this exchange on your blog.



Basically the problem with blogging is that there is a lot of people doing it, and you need to shout loud to get noticed. Now I could use this space to put the obvious rejoinders that arbitary confiscation of assets is a disaster every time it's been tried but that's been done by Tim Worstall. I could argue that morally such a program would be repellent to a liberatrian who values aspiration and who hopes one day to get rich himself.

But that would be redundant. Of course Prof. Philo is wrong! I would rather use this space to offer a paen to the principles of debate with clearly intelligent people who disagree. Whilst I am not now nor ever going to be persuaded that high marginal taxation work, any more than Prof. Philo is going to be persuaded by the absolute need for a massive cut in public spending and, eventually a lower tax economy with sound money.

What I am going to do instead is talk about the need to have your beliefs challenged. Because sometimes you're ever more confident you're right, faced as one is by the stupidiy and mendacity of your opposition. But sometimes you're pulled kicking and screaming by a point made, often in passing, back into a slightly more moderate centre ground by someone from the other side. And this is what the internet often loses: The open debate with people who disagree. Too often the internet becomes an echo-chamber, as everyone rehearses the arguments, occasionally referring to expert fisks of posts from the other side, but otherwise sitting round in a circle-jerk of mutual appreciation and mutal agreement which advances debate not at all. Therefore with polite response, Prof. Philo has moved from 'left-wing loon' to 'someone on the G&T list'. Not that I'd ever agree with him, but I will enjoy debating with him. And that IS important. Aristotle said "all men by nature strive to know". But crucially, knowledge advances through disagreement and discord, not agreement.

Libertarians who don't engage with their polar opposites in convivial terms from time to time lose sight of the fact that there are happy societies with high taxation. That low taxation is only a part of 'economic freedom' one I'd give up in a trice for a belief in the efficiency of markets from the British left.

There are many ways to skin a cat.

Party tribal bloggers know what they stand for. For them, politics is a contact sport. The arguments don't matter as much as your team winning. That's not the thinker's way. You should not, as a political rhetoritician, aim to be right, though we all believe we are. The best we political extremists, that's most non-party bloggers - we've all got our bonnet-bee - can hope for is to move the centre ground our way a bit, for that is where elections are won. Sure, it disenfranchises we extremists, but is it really difficult to see that THAT IS NOT A BAD THING.

Socialists who don't engage with the enemy end up being responsible for millions of 'the rich', intellectuals, thought criminals and people who own two pigs, dying of starvation and overwork in gulags. Libertarians who don't engage with the enemy once in a while end up in a rhetorical cave surrounded by baked bean tins, nursing a shotgun with a bloodhound called fang at your feet, waiting for Armageddon with only Old Holborn for company. (H/T)

This isn't a new idea. La Rochefoucauld was saying something similar about the importance of being disagreed with, in the early eighteenth century. I mean can you imagine anything more ghastly than everyone saying 'yes'?


JimmyGiro said...

Yes... I agree with most of your post; as it conforms to the stabilizing principles of 'negative feedback. But:

"That way lies tribal extremeisms of facsim, communism and anarchism."

The first three are the same thing, but anarchy needs to be seen for what it is: independence from the state.

I don't believe that total anarchy would help society, but its potential should always be present, as a 'restoring force' forever opposed to state hegemony.

Like fire, anarchy isn't good in itself, but used as a tool, it can forge a working society, by scolding all utopian impositions.

Libertarian said...

To me Philo's statement about a town house in Glasgow costing £25k in 1980 and £400k in 2010 and then assuming that it is pure profit sums up the poor understanding that lefties have when it comes to money. In fact how about also calculating the investment in the property over 30 years? Decoration, repairs, new central heating, double glazing, plumbing and rewiring etc etc. Then there is also 30 years worth of insurance premiums,rates/poll taxes/community charges and interest payments made on any mortgage. So in fact the rate of return over the 30 year period isn't the huge amount that it looks on the face of it. Bare in mind if none of this investment had been made this property would now most likely be derelict and therefore not worth much more than £25 k now

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