Bitching Brew

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Brief thoughts on my political philosophy.

This introductory post isn't meant to do my political philosophy justice. This is a blog, not an essay board. But across various topical (or abstract) posts, my personal views should become reasonably clear. For my own sake, let's hope they're at least marginally consistent! Anyway, here's the first in an unscheduled series.

At heart, I'm a libertarian. My Utopia is not terribly different from Marx's, in many senses: I wish to see the state wither away. It certainly isn't socialist (I'm no Marxist, but many "Marxists" really ought to go and read Marx). I wish to expand people's opportunities and ability to choose, free from institutional constraints. Of course, this is all very well in the abstract. Our society is clearly a long way from realising such goals, though there has been marked progress in Ireland, particularly in the last 15 years. Another major stumbling block is this: libertarianism sounds great... in a world of abundance. We live in a world of scarcity. Where resources (including living space and all basic essentials) are scarce, they will be contested.

Economics resulted from the need to distribute and manage scarce resources. Were everything abundant, we could happily dispose of the discipline and its practitioners, freeing them to play the lute, tickle rabbits, or whatever they desire. Various management theories and systems have arisen over the past 250 years, ranging from laissez-faire capitalism to statist centrally-planned economies. We can find most modern economies somewhere in between these two extremes.

In a Utopia, I would sharply limit state power. At the moment, it isn't possible. Firstly, there's a dynamic interplay between politics and economics. Even within the US, though especially elsewhere, the withdrawal of the state from the economy is politically impossible. There aren't too many libertarians around, and the majority of citizens have certain expectations of the state. Secondly, free markets - the basis of all free or mixed economies - require an effective institutional framework in which to operate: a legal and regulatory system. Thirdly, we suffer from a profound scarcity of resources. This takes two forms: across time periods and within time periods. I'll elaborate in a future post.

Largely due to the severe scarcity of resources, yawning inequalities in wealth, power and opportunities to choose have opened up between humans. Statistically, we know these correlate with inequalities between nations, genders, ages, classes etc. But ignore that for now; my primary concern is that gaps exist between individuals. Do I find inequality, in and of itself, objectionable? The answer must be... no. Inequality is not necessarily bad. I find it objectionable insofar as it is limits individuals' freedom to live and to choose. Economic libertarianism will do little to rectify these relative inequalities. Since our resources are scarce, these relative inequalities manifest themselves as absolute deficiencies in some individuals' primary liberties. Thus - cutting out a vast and important tract of argument - I cannot support full economic libertarianism in our world of scarce resources.

This post is turning into an essay. So I must stop at this point - even though the essay is far from complete! Perhaps I'll edit and rearrange things later. There are many, oh so many issues and arguments that branch off from the above paragraphs. I will try to examine as many as I can over time. But let me stress, this isn't solely an economic and political blog! So don't breathe fire and brimstone if you have to read ramblings about football, music, love and life or clamber over amusing pictures and links to find the serious stuff. Actually, breathe fire and brimstone if you wish. These fundamentalist types think I should become accustomed to it.

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