Friday, 12 May 2017

A Missed Opportunity: The LPUK Manifesto 2017

The Libertarian Party UK is a minarchist, or classical liberal, party. This means they consider government to be legitimate only when it is limited to activities relating to defense, both from domestic and foreign violators of the Non-Aggression Principle. In other words, governments should operate a military, a police force and a judicial system of courts and prisons, and should leave all other industries to the free market; there should be no involvement of government in welfare, healthcare, education, transport, energy or other industries.

As a voluntaryist, naturally I disagree with this position from a theoretical point of view: since governments by definition violate the Non-Aggression Principle by their very existence, I believe all governments are illegitimate and that even defense should be provided by private organisations operating in a free market.

I also disagree from a strategic point of view: there is no hope of LPUK getting elected, so the best use of a libertarian political party would be to run an educational campaign. I believe there would be value in a voluntaryist Libertarian Party that explains the libertarian philosophy from first principles and applies it to the issues of the day. Making exceptions to the Non-Aggression Principle, to allow for government in the defense industries, as a minarchist party does, undermines this educational message.

Nonetheless, I will here review the LPUK 2017 election manifesto section-by-section against the standard of minarchism.



Introduction 


The introduction is incredibly weak. In the very first paragraph, it promotes a bizarre conspiracy theory about why the election has been called, which is bound to rile up Conservatives. It goes on to make petty remarks disparaging the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. This is not a good start to what is essentially a marketing document aimed mainly at voters of these other parties. Why not present a positive vision of a libertarian society?

In the fifth paragraph, we come to what LPUK sees as the “main issue that is not being addressed”. What could that be? The growth of big government? Socialism? Overseas wars? Violations of civil liberties? High taxes? Interventions into free market? No. Apparently, it is that we do not have a written constitution! It seems to have escaped the notice of LPUK leaders that the (largely libertarian) American constitution has been a complete failure at restraining the American government. As Lysander Spooner put it:

“But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain - that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.” 

The LPUK wants to see more Swiss-style referenda in the UK, more direct democracy, and the abandonment of the First Past The Post system. But recent libertarian scholarship has shown that democracy, especially direct democracy with universal suffrage, tends to make governments larger, not smaller. If you allow people to simply vote themselves more money and privileges, is it any surprise that they do so? As Frederic Bastiat said:

“The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” 

Or as Hans-Hermann Hoppe put it:

“Democracy has nothing to do with freedom. Democracy is a soft variant of communism, and rarely in the history of ideas has it been taken for anything else.” 

A libertarian manifesto ought to advocate directly for smaller government. Advocating changes to the form of government should be secondary at best – and it should certainly not advocate changing it to a form that will make government less libertarian!

At the end of the introduction, finally taxation gets a mention. Perhaps here we will be told which taxes will be eliminated or reduced under a LPUK government? No. We are instead told that LPUK plans to create a new form of taxation! This “Gordon Brown tax” is specifically for paying down the national debt. A libertarian party true to its name would support an immediate default on the national debt and the elimination, or at least reduction, of all taxation and all government spending. 

Apparently, no libertarian principles or solutions whatsoever are considered worthy of mention in the introduction to the LPUK manifesto!


Balancing The State 


Libertarianism is all about reducing the size of the state and shifting power from the state to the people. And yet, the first main section of the LPUK manifesto does not talk about reducing the state, but “balancing” it - and even supports measures that expand it!

LPUK want not only a written constitution, but a new Constitutional Court, a new English Parliament, compensation to be paid to people “injured by the State” (adding insult to injury for taxpayers!), and a new system of tribunals to hear cases of public corruption and commercial disputes (and to decide whether someone can hold a commercial Directorship!). These things all increase the size of government, not reduce it.

They also support abolishing the House of Lords, reducing the number of MPs, reducing the time the Parliament sits, ending First Past The Post, eliminating the payment of deposits for standing in elections, and limiting the granting of honours to those who do military service. These all amount to mere tinkering with the system of government; they will not reduce the size of government, nor make it more libertarian – possibly the contrary.

These are not libertarian principles, but principles of democracy, which should be rejected by libertarians.


Defence 


The subtitle of this section is “The only legitimate role of the State”, which is what I would expect from a minarchist party. I welcome this statement; I only wish the rest of their manifesto reflected it.

This section begins with an excellent quote from Thomas Jefferson:
“Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” 
Oddly, however, the manifesto then goes on to say that LPUK supports membership of NATO: an entangling military alliance!

The LPUK aim is “to ensure a strong, independent, sovereign nation” with the Armed Forces “geared for the defence of our nation and shipping”. Why “and shipping”? It goes on to explain that the LPUK believes that the UK armed forces should not just defend the UK, but also “project force… globally” and protect “supply lines”. This is a surprising expansion of the typical minarchist role for the military of defending the people against foreign invasion. Why should the UK military defend commercial interests overseas?

LPUK wants to retain and replace the nuclear deterrent. Why? In what possible circumstances would an LPUK government use nuclear weapons? They also want to create new military pensions and military hospitals, and pay a “living wage” (whatever that means) for the armed forces. There is no explicit mention of any policy that would reduce military expenditure.

There is no explicit rejection of overseas wars. What is the LPUK policy on Syria, Iraq, Iran, Israel, ISIS, etc? Does the protection of overseas “supply lines” include military interventions in the Middle East on behalf of oil companies? Would the LPUK support NATO in such operations?


Immigration 


There is no “correct libertarian position” on the issue of immigration, because in a true libertarian society there is no state and therefore no issue of who is to be allowed to cross state borders. In a minarchist state as envisioned by LPUK, immigration is still only a minor issue, because there is no welfare state and no socialised industries, therefore all immigrants must be either self-supporting or living at the expense of some private charitable party. Immigration is only a major issue when it is possible for people to immigrate and then live off the state in the form of welfare payments, subsidised housing and “free to use” socialist systems like public healthcare and schools.

The LPUK manifesto states that the “core tenet is that there should be free movement of peoples” but that that is “not practical whilst we have a large welfare state”. In light of this, I expect LPUK to support interim immigration policies that mimic as far as possible the situation when there is no welfare state, i.e. no welfare payments for immigrants, no subsidised housing, no free access to the NHS or state schools, and so on. Instead, the only restrictions proposed are limits on the issuing of NI numbers, a requirement for medical insurance, and stricter rules for asylum seekers. Nevertheless, as long as LPUK plan to eliminate the welfare state and socialism quickly (we shall see later whether this is the case), perhaps their interim immigration policies are not especially important.

In addition to free movement being impractical whilst we have a large welfare state, the manifesto also says it is impractical while “other countries are themselves not broadly Libertarian in nature”. I do not understand the thinking behind this at all. Why would UK immigration policy be dependent on the policies of other nations?

Another questionable policy in this section is support for CANZUK, which involves free trade, free movement of people and foreign policy cooperation between the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Given the LPUK’s laudable rejection of EU membership, and the above considerations regarding free movement of people, why would it support membership of an international body that appears to be very similar to the early form of the EU? Why should these three countries be treated differently to all others?


The Rule of Law 


This section correctly states that “a central tenet of Libertarianism is that we are all equal before the Law”. (That this principle leads directly to the view that all governments are illegitimate seems to have escaped the notice of LPUK). It states that LPUK wants law that is “understood by the Layman” and is “enforceable”. It says it wants “less Law and regulation,” although it doesn’t explain exactly what laws or regulations it would remove. Price controls? Product controls? Prohibitions? Which laws and regulations would LPUK eliminate?

LPUK advocates a “legal insurance system”, though it is unclear what is meant by this or whether it would be mandatory, or why the current system of “legal aid” is insufficient.

LPUK supports the Nine Peelian Principles of policing, locally-elected police constables, simplified police targets, a reduction of paperwork, stricter rules on discarding DNA, and various other changes to police procedures. While these things sound reasonable to me, I am not an expert on policing and, I presume, neither are the authors of this document. Surely the details of police policy should be left to the experts – ideally entrepreneurs providing police services in a free market – and not politicians.

LPUK claims to be able to “ensure that sufficient prison places are available” but does not explain how this will be done. They support longer prison sentences (in the form of “an end to early release”) and “harsher” prison conditions for “uncooperative” inmates. Will new prisons be built, or will the prison population be reduced, and if so, how? LPUK will “investigate the possibility” of prisoners being able to perform paid work “if they wish”. Surely a more libertarian position would be to force criminals to pay for their own incarceration, easing the burden on the long-suffering taxpayers.

LPUK rightly opposes capital punishment, torture and RIPA, and supports decriminalisation of all sexual activity between consenting adults (presumably this means legalising prostitution, which is of course the libertarian position, but this is not explicit).


The Welfare State 


Just three paragraphs of the LPUK manifesto are devoted to the welfare state. No actual changes to it are mentioned! There is a strange sentence that states that “all these changes will be phased in over a twenty year period”. I have no idea what changes they are referring to, or why they would need to be phased in over such a long time period. An excellent opportunity to explain why private welfare is superior to state welfare is missed in this manifesto. It looks like they just couldn’t agree which parts of the welfare state should be cut first, so they are left saying nothing at all about it.

This section also includes the out-of-place statement that “all A&E services will remain free at the point of delivery.” And here I was thinking this is a minarchist party – why do they support a role for government in providing A&E services?! Surely as libertarians they must understand that A&E services could be much better provided by free market firms than by governments!


The NHS 


The libertarian solution to healthcare is quite simple: sell all state-owned hospitals and healthcare facilities to the private sector and privatise healthcare insurance, with no government intervention thereafter in either healthcare or any related industries such as pharmaceuticals.

Rather than taking this position however, the LPUK merely want to change the current system into a “National Insurance Board” which pays for all treatments and decides who and where treatment can be administered. It is unclear what LPUK supports in regard to ownership of healthcare facilities, and (other than allowing opt-outs for those with private medical insurance) it is unclear how this “new system” would be any different to the current system. Changing the name is not the same as changing the system. No vision for the future of healthcare is presented.

A fundamental libertarian principle is that of self-ownership, which means, among other things, that each individual has the right to decide for himself what drugs he consumes. LPUK advocates decriminalisation of drugs “following the Portuguese model”. Decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation. Drugs are still illegal in Portugal; small-scale users have their drugs confiscated and are forced into treatment, while large-scale users and dealers are still considered criminals. This is not a libertarian policy. Only full and proud support for complete legalisation of all drugs can be called libertarian; the LPUK manifesto falls woefully short even on this straightforward issue.


The Economy 


Libertarians support a free market economy, which is known to produce more wealth than any other kind of economic system. This means no (or low) taxation and no (or little) government intervention into free markets.

LPUK laudably supports abolishing personal income tax (and inheritance tax and capital gains tax). This is a good start. However, they propose an “initial” policy of raising the personal income allowance to £21k and introducing a flat rate beyond that. Why not eliminate it immediately?

They support lowering corporation tax to 10% (why stop there?), simplifying the tax system, and shifting it towards consumption rather than income. They say they will “investigate the viability of a 5 years exemption from Corporation Tax for start-ups”. Why does this need to be investigated? What would prevent this policy from being “viable”? It should be done immediately, and ideally corporation tax eliminated not just for start-ups, but for all businesses.

As mentioned earlier, they wish to repay the National Debt, rather than default on it, as would seem to be the correct libertarian position. A sovereign default would ensure governments don’t overspend in future much more surely than any new “constitution” would! LPUK propose a new “Gordon Brown tax” to pay down the debt – about as unlibertarian a position as you could get!

LPUK rightly stress the difference between free markets and corporatism and claim to support the former, although they do not specify any particular policy proposals that would move us from the latter to the former. They might have explained that corporatism involves government privileges to businesses, and freeing markets means simply removing these privileges.

In another example of the manifesto seeming half-baked, it says “Attempts to reform our economic system would flounder if we ignore… the question of how our money supply is created”. Then they ignore the question completely! Again, the libertarian position on money is very simple: we support competition in the production of money. This means repealing legal tender laws, all monopoly privileges of the Bank of England and all regulations of the banking industry. None of this is mentioned in the LPUK manifesto; perhaps another issue where disagreements within the party resulted in a manifesto that is silent about it.

At the end of this section, it says LPUK supports “The Spending Plan” produced by The Tax Payers Alliance. Having briefly looked through that plan, it looks very good, significantly cutting government spending. LPUK should have been bold enough to explain to their readers what this plan entails.


Education 


The libertarian position is that the government should have nothing to do with the education of children, which should be the sole responsibility of parents or guardians. There should be no state-owned or state-run schools, no state regulations, and no tax money should be spent on schooling.

Once again, the LPUK manifesto falls well short of this standard. While they claim to support parental responsibility for education, they do not mention any plans to privatise schools or repeal compulsory school attendance laws. They propose “as an interim measure” (interim on the way to what, it is not explained) that each child would receive an educational voucher to spend at a school of their parents’ choice. While this proposal may be preferable to the current system, it has problems of its own, and it is entirely unnecessary: no interim measures are necessary here. Sell all the state-owned schools, colleges and universities, and get government out of the education sector entirely. Those parents who cannot afford to pay for schooling (even after they have been privatised and freed from regulations and thus become very cheap) can home school or appeal to private charities.


Public Works 


LPUK would scrap HS2, which is good, but this appears to be the only mention of transport in the entire manifesto! What is the LPUK policy on roads, railways, airports, etc?

LPUK would end all foreign aid, which is also good, as it inevitably is used to prop up foreign dictators and fuel corruption. Private charity is much more effective and efficient at helping people that are in need of help.

LPUK will cancel the building of Hinckley Point nuclear power station “in favour of smaller British built nuclear plants”. This is the only mention of the energy industry in the entire manifesto. Why is a supposedly minarchist party taking a position on which form of energy is better? Why not leave it to the market?

LPUK would cancel the restoration of the Palace of Westminster, and build a new Parliament building instead. Surely a libertarian position should be to privatise the Palace, and find a suitable existing location for Parliament to move to, if it is to be retained!


Not Mentioned in the Manifesto 


I understand that space is limited in a manifesto, but there are some key issues that are barely even mentioned, or not mentioned at all. As I already pointed out, there is very little about the welfare state, nothing about money or central banking, and nothing about transport or energy. There is also no mention of gun rights, intellectual "property", labour regulations (eliminating the minimum wage alone would be a massive benefit to the poor), business regulations or the environment. There is no mention of Scottish secession; libertarians should support all secession movements.

Perhaps the biggest omission of all, given the timing of this election, is Brexit. It is mentioned in the introduction that LPUK supported and campaigned for Brexit and are “confident that a new European settlement will be reached for Free Trade”. This election is a great opportunity to put forward the libertarian position of unilateral free trade. We don’t need a “trade deal,” even a “free trade deal,” with anyone. If another country wants to impose tariffs on our products, that is their prerogative and it is their own consumers who will be harmed the most by such a policy. Regardless of the policies of other countries, the UK should impose no tariffs on any foreign imports, because tariffs always harm domestic consumers. LPUK should heed the advice of Professor Patrick Minford and his “Economists for Free Trade” group, and highlight their common-sense libertarian position as widely as possible. The rights of existing (legal) immigrants to remain in this country should also be affirmed immediately; they should not be used as bargaining chips in any negotiation with the EU.


Conclusion 


The LPUK manifesto represents a missed opportunity to promote libertarianism in the UK. Even by minarchist standards, it is tepid and shies away from taking any controversial positions that would significantly reduce the size of the state and increase liberty. If we libertarians are truly confident of our principles and our belief that liberty is the solution for a wide range of social issues, we should proudly state, explain and defend our positions, even at the risk of hostility and the widespread rejection of our ideas. The LPUK has shown through this manifesto that it lacks the courage to do this.