Enforcing social rules: you can’t plan that

By skepticlawyer

Hayek’s great insight was that command economies don’t work because you can’t, ahem, command economies. Individuals in the marketplace always know more about their preferences than the state ever could. This is coupled with the problem that state management of the economy is subject to the law of unintended consequences, once again largely due to the problem of asymmetric information. Hayek killed price-fixing and central planning, pretty much for all time. However, before he killed it, it’s worth remembering that very often, the law was used as a vehicle to achieve economic ‘management aims’. Sometimes – when governments start thinking that wishing for something hard enough will make it so – there’s a near-perfect example of the whole lot exploding in the politicians’ faces. My favourite case study is the well-meaning legislation passed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989:

[M]any coastal states enacted laws placing unlimited liability on tanker operators. As a result, the Royal Dutch/Shell group, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, began hiring independent ships to deliver oil to the United States instead of using its own forty-six-tanker fleet. Oil specialists fretted that other reputable shippers would flee as well rather than face such unquantifiable risk, leaving the field to fly-by-night tanker operators with leaky ships and iffy insurance. Thus, the probability of spills probably increased and the likelihood of collecting damages probably decreased as a consequence of the new laws.

Way to go, fellas – exactly the opposite effect to that you were seeking. Mind you, we all learnt some shiny new shipping vocabulary. The phrase ‘flags of convenience’ comes to mind.

However, I’m not interested in pressing Hayek’s point in economics. It’s too well known. Instead, I want to press his point when it comes to social policy, particularly when it comes to the desire to enforce social rules using the force of law. HLA Hart is usually credited with the discovery that law is a set of social rules with extra ‘goodies’ attached. There are plenty of social rules that aren’t laws (that one must queue at the bus stop in England, for example), but very few laws that aren’t social rules. Maybe some EU regulations on the proper shape for root vegetables (I kid you not) don’t make the grade, but Hart (and Hayek) would both argue that this is exactly the sort of administrative nitpickery that brings the law into disrepute, in part because it undermines its social basis. In other words, just because there’s a social rule doesn’t ipso facto mean there needs to be a law. The same process doesn’t really obtain in reverse. If a given law lacks a genuine social basis, it will soon become a dead letter. Of course, working out when to legislate and when to leave well alone is a tricky exercise, although heeding Hayek’s advice (‘caution, consider the consequences!’) is a good place to start.

Libertarians often make Hayekian, empirical arguments (based on the problem of asymmetric information and the law of unintended consequences) about the impossibility of economic planning. When it comes to our defence of civil liberties, however, we wheel out Robert Nozick, who made powerful philosophical arguments for self-ownership, negative liberty and personal autonomy. Seldom do we think to argue that Hayek’s empirical points apply to social policy (backed by law) as well. Sure, Nozick made a considerable philosophical defence of the free market, too, and reminded us for all time of the odiousness of taking money from people and using it to pay for things with which they disagree. Ultimately, however, the economic arguments that fly are Hayek’s. They’re even widely known (albeit in attenuated form) throughout the culture.

As people who’ve been paying attention to the fallout from the US election would know, there’s been some entirely justified angst from the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party about its pandering to the religious right. Goldwater Republicans don’t think the State should even be in the business of making laws enforcing many social rules, especially on things like abortion or marriage. That’s up to the individual, not the State, and they reckon its time the state butted out. Even honest social conservatives are coming to the conclusion that on abortion at least (if not gay marriage), the debate is pretty much over. Here’s PJ O’Rouke making exactly this point:

In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people’s business: abortion. Democracy–be it howsoever conservative–is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it’s rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don’t know if I’m one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy […] If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal–and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so–then give the issue a rest. 

However, there’s another argument against what social conservatives have been trying to do with social rules. And it’s Hayek’s, not Nozick’s. It works like this: it probably is better for your moral character not to rootle around before marriage. Social conservatives then proceeded to legislate this insight with abstinence-only sex education. The result? An increase, not a decrease, in teen pregnancy rates. That’s almost as good as the uninsured-oilspill-waiting-to-happen I outlined up above. Once again, way-to-go. Planning doesn’t work here, either, especially not when it’s combined with the force of law. It’s not just the economy, stupid, it’s legal micromanagement full-stop. Never has Richard Epstein’s quip that we live in a world with too many lawyers (thanks to too many laws) seemed truer.

Some social conservatives have weakened their position further by trying to get the government out of the economy (tick) while simultaneously legally micromanaging people’s personal lives (cross). Quite apart from being pissy and interfering and treating people as a means to an end (those Nozickian arguments we all know and love), it just doesn’t work. In fact, it backfires. I think this point needs to be made with some force, and with a nice bunch of case-studies (not just sex education) to back it up. Law is a broadsword, not a scalpel, and needs to be wielded with care.

29 Comments

  1. Posted November 13, 2008 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Great post Skeptic.

    Why oh why did someone write a law about vegetable shapes?

    I think there tends to be a certain notion that when there’s a problems ‘they’ should do something about it. They means the government finally. It doesn’t matter whether they can do something about or what moves will be made if they try.

    Strategic thinking seems to be outre when it comes to enacting legislation in furtherance of making the world a better place. The oil-spill laws are a good example. Didn’t someone think: What will the oil companies do if we do this? Or maybe the legislators knew what would happen but went ahead anyway because then they boast that they’d done something.

    The Religious Right thing is a bit more serious however. Religion’s particular danger when it comes to political action is that consequences are often irrelevant. Therefore it doesn’t matter if teenage pregnancy rates go up as the result of Don’t Do It Sex Ed. What matter is whether Life conforms to (our idea of) God’s Law – End of story.

    I’m sure that people like Sarah Palin would probably be inclined to blame the permissiveness of society and the pervasiveness of ‘Godless liberalism’ for her daughter’s pregnancy rather than the absence of contraceptive information and a defiance of human nature. The solution in this mindset is to go to war against permissiveness and Godless liberalism.

    For thirty years or so, however, the Religious Right have gained marketshare in the American polity. They have constructed an entirely alternative popular culture, a network of media outlets, a lattice of lobby groups and are armed with a rhetorical arsenal that is uncompromising and powerfully asserts the inherent moral failing of anyone that disagrees with them.

    It’s a monster that’s gotten too big. And considering relative birth-rates it will probably get bigger.

  2. Posted November 13, 2008 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Nice one SL, although I’d qualify your “Individuals in the marketplace always know more about their preferences than the state ever could” where essentials are concerned.

    Even an incompetent state can be 100% certain that all citizens want enough oxygen, water, basic food and shelter from extreme elements to at least survive, and (99.99% sure) avoid gross undernutrition, dehydration and/or frostbite. (And the line between essentials and non-essentials is something that is unlikely to be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone having the discussion). On non-essential resource use and allocation (or, lefty me adds, filching from the commons), it’s harder to critcize the efficiency of free markets.

    To me, it’s hard to separate social conservative activists (I act socially conservative, but advocate social liberalism) from religious motivations, and I’m currently trying to wrestle with Horowitz’s “The Philosopher’s Brief” comments on Greenwalt’s tomes about constitution and religion, so your notes here are useful to me. The solution for some social conservative small-government fans would be to get the government out of the entire “marriage” bit altogether, and merely deal with property law and pensions for interdependent couples (or, if you like, triples…) and any dependents, leaving clerics as the only ones to “sanctify marriage”, but with marriage having nothing to do with the law of the land. (And a recent PLoS article Losing the Big Picture: How Religion May Control Visual Attention is making things even more tricky as I’m trying to put the pieces together, especially in a way that might persuade a (usually religious) social conservative activist.

    So, thanks for the carrot moment that lightened things up! Took me back to “Yes Minister” and “British Sausage” and a mental image of Paul Hogan going “That’s not a carrot, THIS is a carrot!”

  3. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted November 13, 2008 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Actually, they’ve just rescinded ‘Ugly Fruit’ rules.

    The EU’s agriculture commissioner called it “a new dawn for the curvy cucumber and the knobbly carrot”.

    Marketing standards for 26 types of produce were scrapped, in a drive to cut bureaucracy.

    The rules were introduced to ensure common EU standards, but are regarded by critics as examples of Euro-madness.

  4. Posted November 13, 2008 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    That the ‘ugly veg’ rules even existed in the first place is a bit of a worry. Hart would be rotating briskly in his grave, while Hayek would probably have drilled through all the way to China by now.

    Sunstein and Thaler advocate the privatisation of marriage in Nudge, and the idea has some merit, although working out what batch of ‘rights’ to attach to their ‘civil union’ (the only form of partnership their hypothetical state would recognise) is the interesting part, of course.

    I’d be careful making the ‘food’ assumption, Dave – a whole chapter of Nudge is devoted to the awful food choices many poor people make. Letting the state do it for them, however, would likely be even worse – tempting as it may be.

  5. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted November 14, 2008 at 1:39 am | Permalink

    Have to admit, it made more sense applying to the size of loo rolls.

  6. Posted November 14, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    The ship example is a bit of a fallacy. It shows that the law was poorly written, not that it was wrong to impose liability for environmental damage on the oil company. I fail to see how any genuine market-based solution could ever solve the problem – an oil company will always make a decision in its own commercial interests, which may include some degree of tolerance for environmental damage. The point of the laws was that as a society, we have decided that we have zero tolerance for that damage.

    A valid solution would simply be to extend the scope of liability to capture companies taking the Royal Dutch/Shell approach.

    This is a common approach in other areas, such as OHS&W laws around Australia which include deeming provisions with respect to liability. If a worker is under the “control” of a party, it doesn’t actually matter whether they were technically employed by them or not.

    It would be fairly trivial to come up with a corresponding deeming provision which would sheet home liability to an oil company in the event that one of its subcontractors caused a spill – and in fact, this would improve the practices of both the company and the subcontractor, who presumably would get no work unless they were regarded as highly unlikely to cause an accident.

  7. Posted November 14, 2008 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Some social conservatives have weakened their position further by trying to get the government out of the economy (tick) while simultaneously legally micromanaging people’s personal lives (cross).

    Understatement of the century – this approach has been dominant amongst conservatives for several decades now. “The state has no place in restraining corporate conduct, but does have a role in your bedroom.” This is also reflected in the neocon view that although laissez faire capitalism is the way to go, it is ok to interfere with entire societies if they are doing things the wrong way.

    However, I think the position is more subtle – most people who believe that the government has a role in controlling people’s lives also happen to believe/assume that the government will be enforcing their personal views and practices on everyone else. It’s no coincidence that this type of conservative thinking tends to come from white, heterosexual, married christians who happen to live in places which predominantly contain similar people.

    So it is with anti-terror laws: “these laws are fine, because they will obviously never be used against me or my kind of person”. I wish more people would consider the worst case scenario.

  8. AJ
    Posted November 14, 2008 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    “I’d be careful making the ‘food’ assumption, Dave – a whole chapter of Nudge is devoted to the awful food choices many poor people make. Letting the state do it for them, however, would likely be even worse – tempting as it may be.”

    Government already has a hand in it though. I imagine if you look at worldwide subsidies for foods like wheat, corn, sugar cane and cattle and compare them with subsides for lettuce and broccoli you’d find a pretty big difference.

  9. Posted November 14, 2008 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    That the ‘ugly veg’ rules even existed in the first place is a bit of a worry.

    To play devil’s advocate there are, or at least were, fairly strict town planning codes in Melbourne. This is the prime topic for an architects’ whinge sessions in one of the myriad shabby-boutique bars in the wall. The bars in the wall are the result of fairly laissez-faire approaches on the that level but on the next scale the approach is to subject building to some kind of overall aesthetic arrangement.
    .
    This was over the top in the high hills surrounding the city. There, all houses had to be one of three earth colours.
    .
    This is an outrageous imposition on the private lives of people. And I’d remove it in a second if I had the power. But I have to admit it was pretty. Prettier than it’d be when the inevitable happens and people are free to indulge their terrible taste.

  10. Posted November 14, 2008 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Dave – Even an incompetent state can be 100% certain that all citizens want enough oxygen, water, basic food and shelter from extreme elements to at least survive

    I think the definition of a state’s competence is grounded in whether the majority of citizens have the essentials. Ideas of what is essential vary. One of the not so much discussed aspects of the Islamist ideology is their assertion that Sha’ria law does this better than Enlightenment project states whether Capitalist Democratic or any of the socialist alternatives. Hence organizations like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood provide a de facto welfare state where the government only provides theft and repression. Of course MB’s funds all come from Iran. It’s an unsustainable party.

    But for those of us who live in a functioning post- Enlightenment state the idea that the State is finally and ultimately responsible for the welfare of the population as a whole is mainstream and central. Opinions differ as to what that necessitates and how to go about it.

    On non-essential resource use and allocation (or, lefty me adds, filching from the commons), it’s harder to criticize the efficiency of free markets.

    And on essentials too. Capitalism has done more to create and distribute abundance than any other system most of the time. When it crashes as it does from time to time almost everyone turns socialist whether they admit it or not. But tho’ the ration ticket economy that governments run are preferable to chaos they’re not preferable to a market economy about 96% of the time.

  11. Posted November 14, 2008 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The Trots are putting on a series of lectures. They always do that. But these are on the Capitalist Crisis. They’re issuing a call to action comrades. A call to action!

    Yes Comrades we are the people who act. We act, we don’t talk. We don’t waste time talking and saying the same thing over and over again. We act. Enough of words, action speaks louder than. Action now.

    Let’s act. What shall we do? I kow. Let’s have a meeting where I’ll give talk called: My Computer Crashed I Should Throw It Out And Never Use It Again.

    Much better that way.

  12. Posted November 14, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    Government already has a hand in it though. I imagine if you look at worldwide subsidies for foods like wheat, corn, sugar cane and cattle and compare them with subsides for lettuce and broccoli you’d find a pretty big difference.

    Melancholy but true, and very much to the detriment of farmers in poor countries, who are thereby denied entry to world markets, and never get a chance to get out of poverty. I live in the EU; not only do they make stupid rules about the straightness of cucumbers, but also ladle out millions in agricultural subsidies. At least people are awake to it now.

  13. Posted November 14, 2008 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    It would be fairly trivial to come up with a corresponding deeming provision which would sheet home liability to an oil company in the event that one of its subcontractors caused a spill – and in fact, this would improve the practices of both the company and the subcontractor, who presumably would get no work unless they were regarded as highly unlikely to cause an accident.

    Not so fast, you’re thinking like the people who passed the bad law. One of the reasons why companies register shipping under ‘flags of convenience’ is to avoid the imposition of laws that are (relatively) easy to impose in municipal systems.

    One of the reasons why international law is so problematic is the lack of enforcement (‘what’s law without a sanction?’). Good luck with telling Liberia and Bermuda that ships under their flag have to sign up to some regime of compulsory third party insurance, or that companies flying under their country’s flag are vicariously liable for their employees’ torts (the mechanism you’re describing). You may get a single digit salute if you’re lucky. More likely, you’ll be ignored.

  14. Jacques Chester
    Posted November 14, 2008 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    I fail to see how any genuine market-based solution could ever solve the problem – an oil company will always make a decision in its own commercial interests, which may include some degree of tolerance for environmental damage.

    Well that might be SL’s point. People will always act their own interests and no law on earth can change that. Aside from laws everyone agrees are morally necessary, why are we fighting markets that will exist with or without sanction?

    What you want in laws is less force and more encouragement. A classic rule of many martial arts is to use your opponent’s strength against them, not to try and beat them down. A well chosen law can get people to do what you want because they see it as being in their interest.

    But! You can’t always have what you want. Some problems cannot be solved, no matter what, with any amount of laws. Right now there is no clear way to distinguish which problems are permanently unsolvable, but we have a handy rule of thumb that almost never fails: that most problems are solvable best if you align self-interest with your policy goal.

  15. Posted November 15, 2008 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    What you want in laws is less force and more encouragement. A classic rule of many martial arts is to use your opponent’s strength against them, not to try and beat them down. A well chosen law can get people to do what you want because they see it as being in their interest.

    Indeed. So Jacques do you have a solution to getting firms to stop treating their disgusting pollution as ‘external’?

  16. Posted November 15, 2008 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    It’s called ‘externality charges’, Adrien. See it work like a charm on a daily basis in London (in the form of a congestion charge). It exposes the costs to public view and allows firms a realistic chance of working out whether they can enter the market.

  17. pedro
    Posted November 17, 2008 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Well I don’t think the congestion charge exposes any externality cost to the public because costing the externality is a joke. It’s like saying obesity costs society a billion-zillion because of all the days work lost and people being slow up the stairs and such. I doubt many externalities can be realistically costed, so the CC is just a charge to ration access to a resource. CBD driving is only for the rich, desperate and lost.

  18. Posted November 20, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Indeed. So Jacques do you have a solution to getting firms to stop treating their disgusting pollution as ‘external’?

    I do, make the bastard CEOs who approved that clean it up themselves. Better still, make them live amongst it. Hell, there is increasing evidence that pollution impacts on everything from dementia to diabetes to atherosclerosis to fetal maturation. Enough is enough, make the twits clean it up themselves.

  19. Posted November 21, 2008 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Not so fast, you’re thinking like the people who passed the bad law. One of the reasons why companies register shipping under ‘flags of convenience’ is to avoid the imposition of laws that are (relatively) easy to impose in municipal systems.

    One of the reasons why international law is so problematic is the lack of enforcement (’what’s law without a sanction?’). Good luck with telling Liberia and Bermuda that ships under their flag have to sign up to some regime of compulsory third party insurance, or that companies flying under their country’s flag are vicariously liable for their employees’ torts (the mechanism you’re describing). You may get a single digit salute if you’re lucky. More likely, you’ll be ignored.

    I think you’ve completely missed the point – the purpose of the law would be to make sure that you don’t have to do anything in Bermuda or Liberia. You structure it to capture the entity obtaining the benefit from the transportation of the oil, not the entity which technically owns the ship. In other words, you make Shell (Australia) vicariously liable for the actions of anyone who transports oil on its behalf (with other criteria, obviously). That way you sue Shell, in Australia, where they have assets and we have jurisdiction.

    I’m sorry but I don’t buy the “find a way to make people want to obey the law” line. Economic solutions are ok, but at the end of the day there will always be (a) bastards and (b) ways in which people can profit by harming other people. For example, would you argue that armed robbery shouldn’t be illegal per se because it’s sometimes hard and dangerous work tracking down robbers, apprehending and trying them? Why not just create an incentive for them not to do it? Because in the end, people will do the wrong thing, and taking a ‘fuzzy’ approach (such as economic mechanisms) is inconsistent with one purpose of the law, which is to express in absolute terms some of the fundamental norms of a society.

    As for jurisdiction, yes, it is hard to enforce laws on the high seas. No, it is not impossible – remember when Australia chased down that ship that had been illegally harvesting Patagonian toothfish.

    This is an interesting discussion in light of recent financial events. Canada and Australia, which have relatively intrusive laws to regulate the banking sector, have seen their major financial institutions survive unharmed (so far). The US and Europe, where there are less intrusive laws, have seen large and seemingly indestructable financial institutions go belly up, causing massive (and, the evidence shows, preventable) ham. Score one, legal interventionism.

  20. Posted November 21, 2008 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Well that might be SL’s point. People will always act their own interests and no law on earth can change that. Aside from laws everyone agrees are morally necessary, why are we fighting markets that will exist with or without sanction?

    Your caveat covers the field, I’m afraid. Does anyone NOT think that a law against dumping loads of oil across pristine wilderness is “morally necessary”?

    If you are saying that there are many areas where there is no moral imperative and the law should just butt out, I totally agree. But I disagree with the example picked above about shipping, and the conclusion drawn from it.

  21. pedro
    Posted November 21, 2008 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    “Does anyone NOT think that a law against dumping loads of oil across pristine wilderness is “morally necessary”?”

    Wrong question really. who would waste all that oil on purpose? The issue with oil spills is liability for accidents. Should accidents be illegal, as compared to compensatable?

    Do you see nothing wrong with making Shell (say) liable for an accident caused by someone else transporting oil to sell to Shell in Australia?

  22. pedro
    Posted November 21, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    John

    That’s pretty much what our law does now. If you make a mess in australia you have to clean it up. but the law does allow some pollution to occur and while that is an externality, it is one we accept as a society because, for example, we want to be able to afford electricity.

  23. Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Wrong question really. who would waste all that oil on purpose? The issue with oil spills is liability for accidents. Should accidents be illegal, as compared to compensatable?

    There are innumerable examples of things which are illegal even though their direct consequences were not intended.

    Who would injure a worker on purpose? Who would ‘waste oil’ on purpose? Who would have a car accident due to failing to pay proper attention on purpose?

    Yet all of these things happen, and we as a society often choose to impose some penalty on those who do them. As with OHSW laws, environmental laws are to a large extent directed towards ensuring that possible polluters do everything in their power to avoid polluting. Holding the oil company liable would ensure that they take a very proactive role in ensuring that everything that their agent/subcontractor/anonymous-person-from-bermuda-who-just-transports-the-oil does is as safe as possible.

    What about this proposition: you are arguing in favour of permitting large polluters to outsource liability to third parties and then rely on ignorance/lack of control/jurisdictional issues to protect themselves.

  24. Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I would also like to add that the “no-one likes to waste oil”/”no-one intends to pollute” line is a bit short-sighted.

    What if it would cost Shell $10 billion a year to make their fleet as safe as possible, but accidental spills from an unsafe fleet would only lost them $1 billion worth of oil? Then in a sense they might well “intend” to lose a bit of oil every now and then rather than making the outlay to maintain a safe fleet, and that will be the most economically sensible decision for them to make. This is where the law must step in, unless we as a society are also happy for them to make that trade off.

  25. Posted November 21, 2008 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Pedro,

    Yes, the laws exist, but the EPA is a paper tiger. I wrote up a submission on the dangers of landfill dumping of electronic goods and the EPA dismissed it as alarmist nonsense. 3 years later Europe and many other regions were passing laws mandating proper disposal of these items.

    Another big problem is attribution, it can be very difficult to determine the full impact of pollution, that can take decades to uncover, and then the relevant entity may no longer exist. For example, there is increasing evidence that diabetes epidemic is in part, perhaps largely so, arising from accumulations of particular toxins. The law cannot address this at present because how do you cost the treatment and loss of lifestyle arising from such a condition? There is now incontrovertible evidence that a number of pesticides can induce Parkinsons Disease yet these pesticides are still widely used.

    I concede this is a very difficult problem but it is one we must solve. Just because the current legal framework cannot address is no reason to abandon the problem. That is taking the easy way out.

    Cynically, the dark side of this is the emergence of a Greens as the major minor party in Aus. If we continue to throw these sorts of problems in the two hard basket expect greater votes for the Greens. Now that is out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  26. Posted November 21, 2008 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’d rather the government be beholden to the Greens than the Nationals and the loony Christian right. It’s an unfortunate by-product of our geographically-focused electoral system that the Nationals get 10 lower house seats with 650,000 votes, and yet the Greens get 0 seats with 1,000,000 votes.

  27. Posted November 21, 2008 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Paul,

    I’ve done work for the Greens and don’t regret it. I was one of the original members of the Qld Rainforest Conservationist Society and still remember standing beside Aila Keto while stuffing pamphlets into envelopes. I even voted for them on occasion. But the Greens are too much like libertarians, too idealistic and with too much of a revolutionary bent. Idealists of any colour are dangerous.

  28. pedro
    Posted November 24, 2008 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    John, is libertarian your favourite term of abuse? 😉

    I agree with your concern, but other than the precautionary principle, which I hate, I think we just have to muddle along. Certainly anything found to be dangerous needs to be banned if that is what the cost-benefit analysis suggests.

    Paul, I’ve got no overwhelming problem with regulating to ensure people don’t take stupid risks, though I hate the state infantilising everyone. But making people liable for things they don’t do is wrong. If you are worried about flags of convenience then ban them from shipping here, and will you please pay my share of the increased costs of imports.

  29. Posted November 24, 2008 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Greens are too much like libertarians, too idealistic and with too much of a revolutionary bent. Idealists of any colour are dangerous.

    The Greens need to be idealistic really tho’ John. Ecological sustainability is a serious issue that mainstream parties just don’t feature. So the Greens come along and refuse to compromise on certain fundamentals. They then draw votes from that part of the population who understand that the issues they’re set up to address are important and being ignored.

    Other’s have been attracted to them as well including idealists of the traditional left whose policies are about social equity rather than sustainability. Then there’s identity politics because Bob Brown is gay. Anti-americanism etc.

    They don’t make good Green policy partially because many of them aren’t really thinking about it most of the time. They’re thinking about ‘luvvie’ stuff like affirmative action, gay marriage; alternatively they’re thinking about labour stuff, lots of unionists in the party.

    Because they haven’t yet had to run anything larger than a council it hasn’t dropped on them how shithouse their policies are. I should say a good chunk of them are thinking about green stuff , however. Fair’s fair.

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