Saturday, January 05, 2008

Internet Access "For The Children"

Samizdata, a UK-based libertarian site, has about as clear an exposition of my small government principles as I've ever heard/seen expounded:

I am prepared to believe that there may be some things (though not many of them) that are of such public benefit that they should be provided at the general expense. That is not to say that I think that if something is good it should be compulsory. Let alone that if it sounds like a good, that is justification for its being compulsory.

But when you are dealing with the state, "free" does not mean 'free as in free speech', nor does it mean 'free as in free beer'. It means 'compulsory'.

So what is being suggested in Britain? Why, that every child be provided internet access! With national health care, everyone pays for least-common-denominator coverage through taxes. What's being proposed regarding the internet is a little more honest:

Parents could be required to provide their children with high-speed internet access under plans being drawn up by ministers in partnership with some of the country's leading IT firms.

It's "for the children", so it must be good.

When a socialist government says you must have something, then you must. There is no freedom under such a government.


Donalbain said...

Meh. Won't happen. Its a consultation. One thing that Labour are excellent as is consulting and not doing.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to exercise my freedom to gamble by popping to the bookmakers just a few yards from my house! (No need to go to Reno for me!)

But seriously, all countries have a different idea of how freedoms should be balanced. To claim that because we have a Labour government means there is no freedom is just as silly as saying that when the US has a Republican government, they have no freedom. For example, many of my gay friends would argue that they now have MORE freedom under the Labour government than they did under the Tories, while smoking friends of mine would argue they have less freedom thanks to the smoking ban. Myself, I would say that I have a couple more freedoms than I did under the Tories, but not anything life changing.

Darren said...

Actually, there's a rather large casino about 20 min from my house (gotta love the United Auburn Indian Tribe, or whatever they're called). I just prefer Reno.

Now onto your comments about freedoms--and this is big, Donalbain. Governments don't *grant* rights. This was big in our Declaration of Independence--we humans have rights given by our Creator, and governments are instituted among men to *preserve* these rights.

I don't think Democrats are as good at preserving these rights as Republicans are here in the US, and I don't think either party is very good at preserving them in the UK--or in the rest of Old Europe, for that matter.

Still, Republicans ran the Congress long enough and the individuals there started enjoying the power a bit too much, and they paid a price in the last election. I have hopes they've learned their lesson. The difference with the Dems is that they consider their freedom-curtailing proposals as a positive! I, however, do not.

Donalbain said...

Interesting that it takes a semi independent tribe for you to be able to something that the average Brit can do,no matter where he lives.

Whatever your DoI says, it IS government that grants rights. You can claim that you have a right, but unless a government is willing to secure it, then it is EXACTLY the same as you not having it.

And as for rights, I would say that the UK compares very favourably with the US in terms of individual rights, obviously we have some that you do not have, and you have some that we do not have.

Darren said...

Yet we strive to ensure our government protects those rights, a thought process the Europeans have never really had--meaning the average European starts at a deficit compared to his American counterpart. And we have the ability--nay, the duty--to eliminate a government that becomes destructive of those rights. We have the right to keep and bear arms.

Our federal government does not control gambling here in the US--that decision is left up to each state. Some states allow it, some don't, some (like California) allow it on a special basis. I don't see gambling as a "right"; it's an activity, like dogfighting, that is regulated by government.

Donalbain said...

Rubbish! Absolute rubbish.

Sorry, but that shows a woeful lack of understanding you have chosen to speak about. May I suggest that you look into aspects of history such as the Chartists, the Suffragettes, the Levellers, the Trades Union Movement? All of which were aimed at getting the government to enforce rights for individuals. And all of which were BRITISH movements. There were similar movements all across Europe as well. Seriously, do some research before you speak on a subject.

And gambling is a PERFECT example of my point earlier. It isnt a right in the US, but it is a right in the UK because our governments enforce a different set of laws. If the law changed in the UK, I wouldnt have the right to gamble, but currently I do.

As for bearing arms, the idea that private citizens owning guns could overthrow a government is so VERY last century (or even the century before that) that it is almost cute that you still believe it. You and the rest of the armed citizens of the USA would not stand a CHANCE against the US army if it could be persuaded to go against you. What protects you is the unwillingness of the US army/police/navy/coastguard/national guard to be the tool of a dictator. Not the gun you keep in the cupboard.

Darren said...

Your view is so very European and so very typical of the American Left.

And again, gambling isn't any more of a "right" than is foxhunting. It's merely an activity that is allowed, or not, by the government; that's very different from a right granted to humans by the Creator.

Darren said...

And when I was talking about the "average European" and thought processes he/she has never had, I was talking about today's Europeans, not those of old.

Donalbain said...

EXACTLY. Foxhunting isnt a right, because the government doesnt allow it. Gambling is a right because the government DOES allow it.
And owning a gun is merely an activity that is allowed or not allowed, same as the others.

Now, if you can show me the difference between having a right that is not enforced, and not having that right please go ahead.

And I look forward to seeing the research you used to come to the conclusion about the "average European".

Darren said...

I struck a nerve. Europeans don't like being called on their socialism and its inherent lack of freedom.

You demonstrate a basic misunderstanding about rights. They are *not* granted by governments, they are supposed to be *defended* by governments. You see that as a fiction, while I see it as the basis of American freedoms. That governments don't always defend those rights doesn't mean that people don't have them, it means that they're unjustly deprived of them. The first situation is merely a part of life, while the second situation is a cry for justice that must be remedied.

No government is perfect, but I prefer the foundations of my own. Assuming you prefer yours, so be it.

allen said...

You're bumping into the distinction between subjects and sovereigns. Subjects have no rights. They're property and enjoy privileges at the pleasure of their sovereign.

The British have managed the neat trick of swapping an individual sovereign for an aggregate sovereign. They're still the subjects of the sovereign and enjoy only such privileges as the sovereign extends to them it's just that the sovereign is now the sum of the British voting public.

That's not a democracy, that's a distributed monarchy.

Donalbain said...

Wow! Such nonsense all on one blog.
The official designation is now citizen of the United Kingdom. And the idea of being property is approximately 700 years out of date.

And, Darren, you didn't strike a nerve, you are just talking nonsense and are being called on it. I am happy to be a Socialist. Or more accurately, an advocate of a mixed economy with aspects of free markets and also with aspects of socialism. And you know what? ALL Western nations are mixed economies with aspects of free markets and also with aspects of socialism,including the USA. However, you seem to going under some delusion that USA is somehow unique and special and unlike other nations.

As for rights, how do we know which rights our "creator" (big assumption there, to begin with) has given us? Assuming that She exist, how do we know that She didn't give us the right to gamble, or foxhunt, or dance in the nude? Is there some sort of Rightsometer we can use to test the rightyness of an idea to see if it is a right, or just something we like to do? At least my definition of a right can be tested, and we can use it to predict something about the society in question.

Darren said...

You can be happy to be a socialist if you want--I choose not to be. And while the US has socialist elements, at least there are those of us here who fight, rather than embrace, them.

As for where rights come from--believe what you wish. You take what you're given, while we still fight for to ensure government protects ours. Guess which view I hold as more noble.

Donalbain said...

You work in apublic school dont you? Do you fight for their abolition?

And I do not "take what I am given". I fight for rights that I think I and others should have. For instance, I fought for gays to have the right to marry. Technically speaking, at the moment, the do not have that right in the UK (it is close but not there), but one day, I sincerely hope that they will.

Erica said...

What an enlightening conversation.

I'm not sure whether I find it hilarious or terrifying that a citizen of one of our first-world neighbors would consider the right of the people to forcibly overthrow a misruling government "cute."

I see that they're well teaching them to roll over for their betters in the UK.

allen said...

> The official designation is now citizen of the United Kingdom.

Really? How nice for you. If I put some lipstick on my cat's ass will you kiss it?

Calling a privilege a right doesn't make it a right any more then naming my cat Catherine Zeta-Jones makes its ass worth kissing and absent a foundation of inalienable rights you're just marking time until any given privilege, or all of them, will be rescinded. Those privileges are exercised at the pleasure of those who don't have to ask permission of anyone to rescind them.

It's those who determine which privileges you may currently exercise that are the sovereigns.

If you're uncomfortable with the notion of rights being conferred by a supreme being then find a source you're comfortable with but either rights attach by virtue of simply being human and thus beyond human granting and denial or they don't. If the latter then freedoms are transient and exercisable only until such time as the granter sees fit to retract permission.

Donalbain said...

Erica: What I find cute is the idea that armed citizens COULD overthrow the government of the USA if it went tyrannical. How many private citizens do you know with decent anti-aircraft emplacements? Because remember, a tyrannical government would not hesitate to send in the bombers against you if you tried to overthrow them.

allen: I am not especially uncomfortable with the idea that you propose, I just havent seen any evidence that it is correct. If you have a method we can use to test whether something is a "right" or not, please let me know.. However, in history we have seen that various groups of people have been allowed to some things at some times and not at others. Imagine if we were able to time travel back to 1700, how would we be able to show the slaveowners that the slaves had rights? Can we demonstrate the existence of rights at all?

Erica said...

"What I find cute is the idea that armed citizens COULD overthrow the government of the USA if it went tyrannical."

Yes, I know, since you already wrote it once. Perhaps repeating it will make it sound more reasonable, but I think not.

What I hear from you is two things: First, since the odds may be against you, you might as well give up and let the government do whatever it wants... it does have the tanks after all. That way lies submission and slavery.

Second, you seem to honestly believe that the members of the US armed forces would turn their weapons on their own mothers and wives if they were ordered to. If you honestly think this is the case I'll have to just feel sorry for you.

Donalbain said...

Nope. What you HEAR from me, is what say. I never once said that "ince the odds may be against you, you might as well give up and let the government do whatever it wants". You may have imagined that I said that, but that is your problem, not mine.

And if the members of the US army do not turn their weapons on their own mothers and wives, then you dont have a problem and the private ownership of guns becomes irrelevant. Indeed, it goes back to something I *did* say: "What protects you is the unwillingness of the US army/police/navy/coastguard/national guard to be the tool of a dictator. Not the gun you keep in the cupboard."

Thank you for agreeing with me though.

allen said...

What is it that you're uncomfortable with? The concept of inalienable rights?

I'm not sure I see the relevance of some, I assume, objective method of determining what constitutes a right and what doesn't. If you're saddled with the task of forming a government you don't sit around waiting for some, perhaps, non-existent, objective means of determining what rights are necessary. You pick them and argue about it.

If you're trying to construct a government you do what seems right to achieve the objectives you've determined to are important. If you wish to form a government which ensures the continued rule of some individual or identifiable group of individuals you make certain design decisions. If not, you make other decisions.

If, for instance, you wish to form a totalitarian dictatorship you'll want to restrict the free expression of opinion, you'll want to have control of all assemblies of citizens, you'll want to have little to no restrictions on the individuals you employ to help maintain the rule of the dictator. There are a bunch of other but you get the idea. You form the policy to meet the goal you've set out.

Similarly, if your intent is to form a democratic society you don't sit around waiting for some golden compass that'll point the way to an inherently perfect series of design decisions. You take your best shot and move forward. You try to make right your wrong decisions and make such changes as changing circumstances demand keeping the original intent in mind.

Considering the propensities of human kind, inalienable rights seem like a pretty good idea to me if the formation of a democracy is your intent. The urge to impose your will on others is simply built into us and requires a strong statement of intent to deter. Since the underlying assumption among those who seek to impose their will on others is some form of superiority the simple statement which asserts equality is a good place to start.

So, "we hold these truths to be self-evident" is simply a means of telling challengers that this proposition is not for discussion. It's an assertion upon which the remainder of the government is built. It's a stone in arch without which the entire structure falls.

Since it's a democratic government that's being created, "all men are created equal" is another stone in the arch. If the assumption is that all men aren't created equal you can call it a democracy but then you might as well call it Catherine Zeta-Jones. It isn't a democracy.

"Endowed by their creator with certain, inalienable rights" is an assertion of authority which is a bit more forceful then "because it's a pretty good idea" but really, no more authoritative. If we're not willing to defend those rights then it's asking a bit much for the creator of the universe to do it for us.

After that it's just a matter of deciding, democratically of course, what the list of rights are that assure individual liberty and a viable government.

Donalbain said...

Allen: I am not uncomfortable with the idea of inalienable rights, I just havent seen any evidence for them. But, you seem to have come around to my way of thinking.
The rights are decided at the beginning by the group of men (it is usually men) who come up with the laws. They are not handed down by some God, but they are what the lawmakers (government?) decide they are. Just like the US government at the beginning decided that some people had the right to be voting citizens (white males) but laters changed their mind and decided that blacks and women could have that right as well..

It seems we all agree after all and can now just have a nice cup of tea!

allen said...

Objective evidence for the existence of inalienable rights? I hope you're not serious about requiring objective evidence for the existence of inalienable rights because if you go looking all I can suggest is to look in the same area you'd expect to find objective evidence for the existence of style and class.

Of course the concept of inalienable rights is a human construct but it's the natural result of the decision to form a government based on democratic principles. What other options are there? Alienable rights? That's a clumsy enough phrase that the more succinct and transparent word "priviliges" strongly recommends itself. I submit that a democracy based on privileges is a pretty poor example of the breed.

But there's a more fundamental reason for the assertion of inalienable rights: it deprives the abrogators of those rights of legitimacy. By encumbering the right, they attack the foundation of legitimate governance and over time that lack of legitimacy erodes popular support for those who seek to circumscribe those rights. That doesn't mean that there haven't been, won't be successful assaults on the rights of all or groups of citizens but the assault suffers erosion as a result of its inherent illegitimacy.

The success is always transient if sometimes too long-lived to suit me.

One example of this phenomenon is the state of law with regard to private ownership of firearms. Over time encumbrances to the right to defend ones self from illegitimate physical assault has eroded as the promised return failed to materialize. So we're reclaiming that portion of the right we were convinced to give away.

As to your observations about slavery and women's suffrage, I'd remind you that the formation of a nation is a political process and, as a countryman of mine observed, "Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made." Give us our due. Against all reason and common sense, those shortcomings were rectified.

> It seems we all agree after all and can now just have a nice cup of tea!

Just as long as there's no group hug involved.

Donalbain said...

Saying that a right is inalienable only removes legitimacy from your opponents if they agree with you. Otherwise it is just ends with you saying it is inalienable while they say it isn't. And in the absence of any way to test if they are or not, it comes down to whoever can enforce their views on the other group. The legitimacy isnt inherent, it is only asserted.

And my mention of slavery/womens suffrage wasnt a criticism of the US, but an example of rights changing over time.

allen said...

As an articulated part of the foundation of our government disagreement with the concept of inalienable rights does nothing to delegitimize them. There are probably people that think women's suffrage was a bad idea but since the process of achieving universal suffrage was legitimate so is the result.

If you're suggesting that the absence of some measurable, natural phenomenon from which inalienable rights spring undercuts the value and, too overuse a word, legitimacy of the concept then you're suffering from a misconception. Being areligious, not atheistic, I don't feel any need to receive rights from a higher power. It's just a pretty damned good idea if you're trying to build a just and equitable society. If others arrive at the same conclusion via a different route then I say "Hallelujah!" No measurable, natural phenomenon necessary, just a design element in the construction of a government.

> And my mention of slavery/women's suffrage wasnt a criticism of the US, but an example of rights changing over time.

The criticism is legitimate, the conclusion is flawed as was the application of the principles of inalienable rights. The flaw sprang from political necessity but that just explains the genesis of the flaw, it doesn't excuse it. Over time the flaw became more difficult to ignore until finally, if contentiously, the flaw was put right.

The reason the flaw was, eventually, put right I believe is that the concept of inalienable rights provides a steady moral compass that over time erodes support for discriminatory policies.