The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Archive for November, 2006

Stealing the taxman’s identity

Posted by rantingkraut on November 24, 2006

There is a new book out called “How to Label a Goat”. As the title suggests clearly enough, it deals with silly and superfluous rules and regulations in New Labour Britain. This book is amusing and annoying at once –although it might just be amusing if you live in the US. The following detail on P.37 caught my eye:

10,000 civil servants were recently found to have had their identities stolen by gangs fraudulently trying to claim tax credits.

The cost of that fraud is annoying enough, but not particularly unusual when it comes to government spending. What is interesting is that it does not seem to be a major problem to steal the identities of thousands of civil servants in one of the departments the government presumably cares most about.

Just dwell on this for a moment and consider what it means for ID cards: the same organisation which is planning to force you to hand over all kinds of information about yourself can’t stop identity theft from its key employees. Just imagine how much fun those gangs could have had with all the information on a central identity register. Well, at least someone will benefit from ID cards.


Ross Clark
“How to Label a Goat: The Silly Rules and Regulations That Are Strangling Britain”
Harriman House Publishing, 2006
ISBN 1897597959

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Posted in Books, ID Cards | Comments Off on Stealing the taxman’s identity

The Liberal Democrats are having a good idea…

Posted by rantingkraut on November 20, 2006

… and it is actually liberal. This surely doesn’t happen often, and it hasn’t received the publicity it deserves. Nick Clegg and some of his comrades are proposing a Freedom Bill to undo the worst damage of New Labour’s legislative frenzy to date and some conservative party mistakes as well (such as removing the right to remain silent for example). A top ten list of laws to be abolished can be seen here and suggestions for more are invited online.

How likely this is to work is a different issue of course. Even if the bill goes to a vote and is given sufficient time it would need a lot of labour rebels. Still, it might be a good start and the idea for a single bill to right the worst wrongs in recent legislation deserves to be kept alive.

Posted in Civil Liberties | Comments Off on The Liberal Democrats are having a good idea…

UK Politicians fear the impact of the internet – Good!

Posted by rantingkraut on November 17, 2006

Matthew Taylor, Tony Blair’s current chief strategy adviser complains about the influence of the internet and libertarian blogs in particular:

What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It’s basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

(…)

Part of the problem, he added, was the “net-head” culture itself, which was rooted in libertarianism and “anti-establishment” attitudes.

(Source)

Well it is hardly surprising to see politicians disliking that kind of exposure. What Mr. Taylor appears to want instead are constructive contributions to government policy programmes. And here lies the problem. What modern governments, and new labour’s government in particular, want is to micromanage citizens’ lives to produce a planned outcome corresponding to an assumed general will. They pursue nothing less than a totalitarian agenda. Clearly, any movement rooted in libertarianism will at the very least insist on limited government and therefore will not want to make a constructive contribution to such a programme.

One need not be a libertarian though to find Taylor’s arguments out of place. Referring to UK citizens’ demands he claims “They wanted “sustainability”, for example, but not higher fuel prices…” sustainability, used out of context, is of course so broad a concept as to be meaningless. Given that fuel prices are alluded to, and assuming some fashionable green bias, one can guess that this statement refers to the alleged use of higher fuel prices to force people onto public transport. In this context, one should note that the percentage of road and fuel tax receipts spent on transport (including public transport) has fallen from around 93% in 1975 to 36% in 1985 and then to approximately 19% from 1998 onwards (source). This sustained record of imposing high taxes on motorists while making no corresponding investments in road building or improving public transport clearly suggests that fuel prices are inflated to raise money, not to achieve sustainability, however defined.

He goes on to claim that people want “… affordable homes for their children but not new housing developments in their town or village.” Be that as it may, libertarians out of all people have a clear answer on how to solve that particular problem: if the land is yours, you may build on it. If only politicians knew their place, things could be that simple.

If politicians fear that kind of publicity, that is good news: the less bullshit they get away with, the better. However, considering how Blairites usually think, they will possibly see this as one more reason for internet censorship.

Posted in In The News | Comments Off on UK Politicians fear the impact of the internet – Good!

Tony Blair on ID cards

Posted by rantingkraut on November 6, 2006

The telegraph today printed a commentary by Tony Blair, spinning his standard routine in support of ID cards. Among all this we find the following:

“… in a world in which we daily provide information to a whole host of companies and organisations and willingly carry a variety of cards to identify us, I don’t think the civil liberties argument carries much weight.

(Source)

This attitude is hardly surprising. After all, it comes from the man who dismissed the idea of liberty as nonsense a long time ago. Yet, little of what Blair has said since then sums up his authoritarian instinct more neatly than this.

To a civilised person [1], the question of whether information is provided willingly or extracted by force makes all the difference. To the Stalinist planner, only the aggregate outcome matters: people end up providing information. Whether this happens as a result of voluntary agreement or government coercion is unimportant to him.

This, in effect, is how Tony Blair sees the interaction of government and citizen generally. The statement “I don’t think the civil liberties argument carries much weight” could serve as a motto for just about any policy he has ever been involved with.

[1] If calling Tony Blair uncivilised is to be more than a slur this needs to be justified. The justification required may be wordy, but it is easy to provide: A civilised society demands that people live by rules which are generally acceptable, thus minimising the need for using force. To be generally acceptable, the rules adopted should protect individual rights against group interests. Such rules therefore must require that each citizen respect the liberty of all others. A person who does not accept this basic principle and instead aims to impose his own preferences by force puts himself in conflict with such an order. He may either be put in his place by the society that surrounds him or could be successful in imposing his will on others. In the latter case, he is called a criminal when operating on a small scale, a tyrant when subduing society as a whole. In any case, tyranny and civilisation are mutually exclusive.

Posted in Civil Liberties, ID Cards | Comments Off on Tony Blair on ID cards

Another Theocratic Menace

Posted by rantingkraut on November 5, 2006

The UK’s Evangelical Alliance, a Christian pressure group, has published a report entitled “Faith and Nation”. Judging by its recommendations, the report seems to advance a broadly communitarian brand of authoritarianism and appears to aim at securing a minimum degree of Christian influence within it.

The report calls on Christians to “Oppose the pervasive contemporary culture of autonomy, self-expression and privatised values, reasserting instead the crucial importance of community based life …” and “Resist strict segregation between the public and private realms, and maintain that God is sovereign over all Creation…”. This makes their position fairly clear in general terms.

It doesn’t get any better where the report touches on freedom of speech. Some non-committal remarks on religious tolerance and freedom are made of course. However, censorship is not even rejected in general terms. The question rather appears to be how far it should go. On page 92 of the report we read that “… real uncertainties remain as to how far religion should be legally protected from criticism and to what extent censorship is valid.” For those who genuinely value freedom of speech there is no such uncertainty: no idea or ideology, religious or otherwise, should ever be legally protected from criticism –full stop.

This flirt with censorship is no esoteric concern either. The report urges Christians to make use of existing oppressive mechanisms to take action against opinions which are deemed religiously offensive: recommendation 32 calls on Christians to “… make use of the various complaints procedures offered by media outlets, regulators and the law when material seriously offensive to Christians and others is broadcast.

The Daily Telegraph has been reporting on “Faith and Nation”, stressing its call for civil disobedience and even violent resistance where necessary. Given the current climate for selectively oppressing Christians while accommodating all other religions, this call for civil disobedience could well meet with some approval. What is hard to accept though is the peculiar combination of the evangelists’ demands: on the one hand, a call for civil disobedience where Christian interests are at stake; on the other, a call to use the law to censor opinions deemed offensive to Christians. This is exactly the kind of hypocrisy which is currently seen as an Islamist trade mark.

How should secular minded classical liberals react? The need to reject Islamist and Christian theocratic authoritarianism alike should be obvious. Accordingly, one ought to be wary about close alliances with groups like the Evangelical Alliance. We have no equivalent to the first amendment in the UK and it is not inconceivable that Christian authoritarians could eventually join forces with their Islamist counterparts to enforce some kind of compromise, protecting a limited set of religious beliefs from criticism. They could also use the law to demand all kinds of religious privileges for their members.

With Christians currently at the receiving end of multiculturalist thuggery it is possibly still worth forming tactical alliances where they do not conflict with liberal principles. The next time a Christian gets bullied e.g. for wearing a cross, it may be a good idea to actively support them by writing to their employer or whoever does the bullying. If the victim belongs to an identifiable Christian group, one should perhaps let them know of the support and highlight the fact that what is being supported here is individual liberty rather than a common religious belief or interest. At the moment, Christians are in a position where they badly need their individual freedom to be protected. The more often they are reminded of the principles on which their own liberty depends the better.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Speech | Comments Off on Another Theocratic Menace

Quote of the day

Posted by rantingkraut on November 4, 2006

Governments do not represent the will of the people, they merely represent what the people are willing to put up with.”

Kurt Tucholsky (source)

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No utopia in Iraq

Posted by rantingkraut on November 4, 2006

In his last Telegraph column, Boris Johnson is reflecting on the unfolding quagmire in Iraq:

We destroyed the Baathist state, without realising that nothing would supplant it.

(Source)

Ironically, this may be too optimistic a verdict. In its critique of utopian social engineering, Karl Popper predicted that any attempt to engineer a new society synthetically from a blank canvass will always lead to a totalitarian regime, since such total power will be required to implement the pre-conceived master plan. Hayek had similar things to say about the rationally constructivist approach to social reform. Even though the aim in Iraq was to introduce a liberal democracy, it still required the imposition of pre-ordained principles of government on a populace unfamiliar with them and unprepared for them.

The latter point has been made by Oriana Fallaci when she argued against the war. Having said all this, the Popperian prediction of totalitarianism may yet turn out to be mistaken for all the wrong reasons. The occupying US-led coalition is unlikely to have either the motivation or the resources to impose and maintain such a regime. If the terrorists can’t be defeated swiftly, and it looks just like that, defeat and withdrawal may simply be the preferred option. Instead of bringing democracy, the west may then have inadvertently opened up a new playground for jihadists, where previously there was none. Instead of ‘nothing’ we may be getting a new al-Qaeda base.

Posted in Islamism, Middle East | Comments Off on No utopia in Iraq