The Huge Risk the PLP are taking in Disposing Corbyn in this Fashion

Since the referendum, Labour spent the following week doing its best to implode. Members of the shadow cabinet resigned en masse, only to be replaced by other shadow ministers who then resigned their post not too long after. This is done in the name of bringing down the leader Jeremy Corbyn, who many in the PLP feel isn’t fit to lead the Labour party to a general election. A significant number of Labour voters are not too appetised by Corbyn’s reign as leader either. Yet Corbyn remains entrenched as leader of a party that in any other circumstance have seen its leader resign. His position is untenable, but he’s holding on to dear life.

He’s holding onto dear life because he knows he can mobilise enough support among Labour members to vote for him in a leadership election bid. Such a victory would keep him in control of Labour even though the PLP would most likely split between the party. The PLP is deciding to not challenge Corbyn’s position until he either resigns or becomes a certitude loser to whoever his challenger would be (most likely Angela Eagle). As a strategy to dispose Jeremy Corbyn without splitting the party, this may be the most effective.

The PLP are taking a huge risk though. The general public probably won’t see this as a clever strategy being implemented to ensure the survival of HM Opposition from perpetual Tory government. Instead the public are likely to think the PLP is not only full of bland and boring politicians, but incompetent ones who can’t even dispose of their own leader quickly despite being very unpopular. Simply put the PLP don’t look in charge of their own party, rather than tolerating a pariah as leader they are being held hostage to him. Now who’d want these hostages to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union? Aren’t they meant to representing us? Aren’t they meant to leading us through these uncertain times?

The PLP may save Labour, but it will be a pyrrhic victory. The waiting game will only help the Tories. Would that constitute saviour?

Brexit! What now for the Left?

By a margin of 52-48, Britain decided to leave the European Union. The Mutualist’s author decided to vote Remain, primarily due to the fear that Brexit would lead to a big shift towards the right on the political spectrum. So far the Left have done little to encourage me that my fear was wrong. Unless Jeremy Corbyn resigns before a leadership contest is held, the Labour party will split in two. Progressives outside of Labour have also essentially stated that the referendum result should be ignored. Both of these situations the left find themselves in are highly damning.

Let’s start with Labour. The EU referendum result offers the first major chance the Left has had to realign the political spectrum since the Second World War. The political system is in chaos at the moment with a very nervy population that seeks to gain control over their own lives. Many have not seen wages rise for over a decade, mass unemployment exists within the North and those among the working classes don’t feel proud to either being working class, or British/English. Even though the left has never had a good reputation for stoking up patriotism in this country, it can be good at promoting prosperity for those struggling in society.

If you’re on the left thinking about the scenario we find ourselves in, there are opportunities to overturn the political orthodoxy by giving Leave voters (particularly those in the North East) the ability to Take Control of their lives through a more left wing economic agenda tackling both inequality but also the dearth of investment in the North to the scale needed to make the region prosperous. This could be done while remaining socially liberal, demonstrating the people’s socially conservative attitude towards immigrations in a symptom of the economic hardship they’ve faced, rather than because a significant amount of the population are racists looking to come out of the closet.

The party you’d expect to represent the left is not only in disarray, but lacks the necessary leadership to do the stuff mentioned above. It’s leader barely has a Shadow Cabinet, yet no alternative leader is offering a vision on how to make the Labour heartlands prosperous. It was clear throughout the reign of Miliband, that Labour lacked leadership throughout the party. There wasn’t a single politician that looked capable of setting the agenda, this despite the publication of the popular and flawed study of inequality by Thomas Piketty’s in his book Capital. The Parliamentary Labour Party seems devoid of the talent necessary to do for the left what Thatcher did to the right in the 80s.

Jeremy Corbyn had the right idea in allowing a team of experts to heavily influence his economic policy, yet such ideas haven’t took off and neither does Corbyn look like someone who could demand obedience from his fellow MPs. Yet those MPs have little appreciation for the scale of ambition needed to ensure their party survive. They think they do, but everyone thinks they’re capable of surviving until its too late. This is the sorry state of not only the Labour party but the left as a whole. Those with washy washy ideas about how to improve things, like Ed Miliband, lack the leadership calibre to make those ideas turn into reality, likewise those with the ideas also lack that exact calibre needed. This is what will kill of the left and progressivism in this country.

If you still think that a future exists for the left and progressivism in 21st century Britain, then you’ll be pleased to know that some progressives want to reject the result of the referendum. The referendum itself was advisory so it is technically possible to do this, especially given that Leave only won by a narrow margin.

Politically it would be a disaster. First the right could legitimately claim to be on the side of the people, ensuring their vote gets put into action. It will be right-wing parties like UKIP that will benefit electorally, it will be left-wing parties like Labour that will lose out. UKIP will be the one’s in touch with the working classes, listening to them and acting on what they want.

Second there is no reason to think that the EU would take Britain, or the left, seriously at future negotiating conferences, etc. We would be the divorcee who can’t be arsed to move out into a new home, to file the divorce papers and expect the partners flow of funds to keep coming. Is that the vision of Britain progressives have in mind? It is a sickening vision that will only turn the country away from those who espouse such a picture, or to be fair those who espouse a picture that implies the picture just laid out. We’ve made our claim to divorce, let’s do it honourably seek to ensure the future ends up being good for us and who knows in the future we may want to remarry.

The referendum result will not only highlight frailties in the British economy, but it will highlight how the left has had little contribution to the mainstream economic debate in a very long time. It has not built a movement of think tanks, etc., like the right did with the Mont Pelerin Society, the IEA and across the Atlantic the Cato Institute. Those that have been set up don’t look like they’ll be called upon.

The situation we face should be an opportunity for any set of ideologies to come and form new electoral coalitions that will shape British politics for the next generation. The left though don’t seem intent on either espousing an ideology with conviction or forming a coalition that is workable. It looks like the right will win the next political realignment, just like it did with the last one in the 80s.

The Troubles Facing Labour Moderates

Pursuing a left-wing agenda in a mainstream political party is so difficult in the United Kingdom that a flawless political strategy is necessary to make sure a really embarrassing defeat, like in 1983, doesn’t occur. When the leader of the party is incompetent, like Jeremy Corbyn, it is next to impossible. Simply put for Labour to win an election on a left-wing platform it must have one of the greatest political leaders of all time captaining the boat through the inevitable storm that waiting for them. Labour moderates ought to have a really job easy in comparison, present an alternative and sensible path to power while waiting for the left wingers in the party to implode.

Labour moderates have had more than their fair share of plights as well. The truth is they are responsible for their plight, they are responsible for Labour’s plight, they are responsible for the dissatisfaction with centre-left politics in general, they are responsible for Labour’s demolition in Scotland, they are partially responsible for what happened in 2008 and they are responsible for the dim-witted philosophy behind the desire for power and management. Underlying all this is the manner in which they have pursued a centrist agenda. It’s not the pursuit of centrism itself which is their problem, but how they have gone about. When moderates realise why this is the case, they’ll have somewhere to start in building up a Labour party that has a long-term future in 21st century British politics.

Moderates have this insistence in the necessity for a centrist agenda to achieve winning the next, or any for that matter, election. Even though this isn’t necessarily true (cf. Margaret Thatcher’s reign of power),  in most cases it is. However, it is folly to think of the centre as a place you want to go. Great politician’s know that the centre isn’t a place you go towards, but one you pull towards yourself. Labour moderates ought not to be seeking out the political centre, which is already occupied by the Conservatives, but changing it to suit the ideals of the left and Labour. Shaping the political zeitgeist is only possible if you know the art of influencing the centre ground to come closer to you, while knowing which policies you have to meet half way with those you wish to substantiate your centre ground.

There have been a number of reasons why Labour have failed to attract the centre to it. It has failed to communicate a coherent vision that empathises with your average voter demonstrating that Labour do in fact share their concerns, even if they don’t agree with the instinctive action the public would want implemented to solve them. It has been incompetent in governing throughout the country. Safe competent government is a notion the electorate don’t associate with the Labour party. Incompetence is the reason the nation as a whole doesn’t trust Labour with the leverages of power, it is why Labour got annihilated in Scotland.  They never looked after their allies enough in the good times so in  the bad times they’ve changed their allegiances, whether that be to Jeremy Corbyn, UKIP, the Greens or the Conservatives.

How do the Labour moderates turn this around to make Labour an electable party again? First they must identify with left-wing principles again of liberty, equality and social justice. Second they must realise they were in fact right to embrace markets, but the type of the markets they embraced were not necessarily compatible with left-wing principles. The necessity for modernisation within the Labour party during the 80s and 90s is a statement not worth undermining. That doesn’t mean it is the end goal of the modernisation project though. Third they should find a way to reconcile all these points. Alienating your core support for long periods of time only hurts the health of the Labour party in the long-term, even if it greatly helps in the short and medium term when facing the travails of government.

Let’s take the first two together. My analysis rests upon the assumption that markets ought not be an anathema to the left. New Labour was right to criticise the anti-market tendencies of those on the hard left of the party. New Labour thought this could be accomplished by trying to make Thatcherite capitalism more humanistic by providing basic welfare to the unemployed, those in low paid work, to children and to the disabled. By making capitalism compatible with the philosophy of humanism, New Labour hoped to have found a way to reconcile left-wing principles with the economic realities that the left needed to address.

What New Labour got wrong is for the desire to humanise capitalism, rather than humanising markets. Markets in themselves are neutral to the concerns of the agents operating within them. Economists value markets though because on average the utility of market agents both in terms of welfare and liberty are expanded. But markets needn’t be capitalism. Capitalism as an ideology also makes an assumption about how companies ought to be organised (the essential role of investors) and what the nature of property rights are (in particular a very strong form of private property). Such assumptions though are not even supported empirically as being necessary for the existence of a functioning market, in our market economies many different form of ownership structures exist such as cooperatives and they succeed very well.

Why is this important? The assumption I made above particularly about property rights heavily favours a market based upon right-wing principles, rather than left-wing principles.  New Labour’s humanising of capitalism ended up painting over the cracks rather than truly trying to make society more equal. Social mobility in the UK is in a worse state now than during anytime during the 80s. In a more equal society, defined as equality of opportunity, this shouldn’t be the case. Simply blaming the Conservatives doesn’t cut it. There was talk during Miliband’s reign as leader of utilise policies that predistribute wealth, rather than redistribute wealth. Nothing has come of it though.

John Maynard Keynes once said:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.

Labour moderates have espoused pragmatism for so long that they have becomes Keynes’ practical men. This has blinded them to alternative ways of seeing things, ways that if spun correctly could very well move the centre ground towards the left.

The trouble the moderates have though is that isn’t clear which thinkers offer a holistic philosophy and programme which is both pro-market and egalitarian. This is the result of the stagnation of the intellectual left which it would be unfair to hold the Labour moderates responsible for. Most MPs are lawyers, not economists and most certainly not political philosophers. So how can we expect this off Labour MPs? We can’t expect it, but the political outlook in the short, medium and long term for Labour is so bleak that it is demanded of them. MPs need to go out of their comfort zone and confront long held beliefs if they are to stop digging Labour into its grave.

Take Piketty’s Capital which asserts the need to implement a global wealth tax to tackle inequality. Piketty is in fact a supporter of egalitarian capitalism, or egalitarian markets, not a socialist like Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Jones.  The empirical research in Capital is to be highly commended, but it is thoroughly impractical. How are you going to implement a global wealth tax? Who’s going to do it? The UN? The US? The UK? Wont influencing the tax rate turn into some geopolitical game to see which superpower has the biggest mojo when it comes to promoting their national interests? Thomas Piketty attempt to provide a solution to his analysis on the source of inequality is an example of the failure of mainstream left-wing thinkers to give an alternative to what we have which is workable.

In turn that means heterodox groups are flourishing. We have advocates of Modern Monetary Theory, such as Steve Keen, who flat out rejects the economics of austerity as being wrong. Austerian economics simply doesn’t understand how money is created (mainly through lending from private banks) and that the worth of currency is guaranteed by the state. Georgists support the introduction of a land value tax  to promote land justice and tackle the UK’s housing problem, particularly in London. Most Georgists tend to be on a progressive-libertarian spectrum, some like Michael Hudson are progressives while Fred Foldvary is a geolibertarian. We then have your more traditional socialists who have nostalgia for the post-war consensus. Finally we have mutualism, or a form of left-libertarianism which supports both market and socialist economy all in one. All these ideologies are radical, with the first two and last one having the advantage of being compatible with free market enterprise.

In their current form, these ideologies will be too radical for the general populace to accept. The role of the centre-left, or radical centrists, is to take the really good ones and moderate the ideas so they become acceptable to the populace then ensure the centre grounds moves towards promoting those ideas. Some of these ideas, such as Georgism and mutualism, have support among those on the right of the spectrum as well. Milton Friedman thought that a land value tax would be the least bad tax. Red Tories have supported consumer-owned cooperatives in the past, the Conservative-Liberal Coalition government oversaw the mass mutualisation of some public services. Even though these groups have not necessarily taken on board the ideology of Georgism and Mutualism as a whole, they have taken on board some of the general premises which is the least the centre-left should be doing. Leave it for the left to move the centre-left more to the left to move the centre even further towards left that it once was. New Labour ironically did that with Thatcherism when it supported a mass privatisation of public services.

As this piece has argued though, taking ideas from other ideologies simply isn’t enough. A coherent set of principles must underlie why you chose those ideas. This is to allow a coherent narrative and picture to be established. Empathising with the electorate is necessary, but in order for you to persuade them of your perspective. It’s time for Labour moderates to ditch the moderate label and espouse something closer between the centre-left and radical centrism. A party on the left side of the spectrum shouldn’t behave as if it is a small-c conservative party, but should be radical in its own right. It’s the centrists jobs to find out where that lies on the political map.

The Mistakes of the Liberal Democrats

After the rise of Cleggmania, the aim of the Liberal Democrats ought to have been to put themselves in a place where they could effectively become the opposition party (i.e. the second party) in the near electoral future. In May 2010, it seemed that entering a coalition to demonstrate to the public was the right coarse of action to take to demonstrate to the electorate that it was a party capable of running the country rather than protesting it’s incumbent government would be a good idea.

In hindsight it would have been better and easier for the Liberal Democrats to have been a critical party of the Conservatives economic plan yet vote through key amendments necessary to keep the government stable, this would have had a number of benefits.

First, the Liberal Democrats could have done a lot more to preserve their liberal ideology, hence their identity, unlike when being a coalition partner to an illiberal political party. They could have been the party airing the view that liberalism does have sensible and practical things to at about modern day British life. The Liberal Democrats would have had more time to oppose the snooper’s charter, oppose secret courts and fight for digital rights to be incorporated into human rights while not being constrained by cabinet collective responsibility. As key figures of the Liberal Democrats were constrained by such responsibility, the rest of the party ended up being constrained to ensure that the coalition didn’t split apart.

On the economy, they could have argued with the Conservatives about the need for fairer cuts to be implemented, in which structural reform of the labour market was necessary in order for the cuts to work in the first place. Downright idiotic policies like the bedroom tax could have been flatly avoided. Yet the Liberals would support the cuts in the name of the national interest, or in some cases abstain so it was a straight Conservative Labour fight in terms of winning the vote (which the Tories would have won).

At the same time promoting the national interest would have been a more resounding message because the public would realise they were voting for policies that they didn’t necessarily agree to help balance the national finances. Principled anti-Tory voters would still have found this problematic but it would warm up to more centrist voters who’d be attracted to the moderating force the Liberal Democrats had in government.

The damage to Nick Clegg’s reputation has been monumental, yet back in 2010 there was enough popularity for him to have been the figurehead of the opposition. He’d been in the ideal place to criticise the Conservatives unsympathetic instincts to the vulnerable while having the luxury to criticise Labour’s previous record in government. With the failings of Ed Miliband as leader of Labour, Clegg could have positioned himself as a genuine alternative to both the Conservatives and Labour. Nicola Sturgeon would call this being the true party of opposition despite only having 50 MPs in the Commons.

Finally, the Liberal Democrats managed to finish in second place in a lot of constituencies back in 2010. Spending time being the effective, thereby de facto, main opposition to the government could very well have given the Liberal Democrats the credibility they needed and wanted to be a party on the national stage. One of the reasons Clegg went into coalition was to show the electorate that the Liberal Democrats were not a bunch of idealists who had little prospect or desire of actually influencing modern Britain.

To look at this from a purely counterfactual perspective would be wrong, they are decisions that could have been made in the early days of the coalition that would have seen better outcomes for the Liberal Democrats. Here is a list of things they could have done, not necessarily implemented, that may have helped their fortunes:

  • Either oppose any raising of tuition fees, or ensure PR was at the heart of the electoral reform referendum instead of AV. If one of these had to be sacrificed to achieve the other then so be it. Personally I’d think not raising tuition fees was a higher priority for the long term success of the Lib Dems.
  • Not be seen to be too friendly with the Conservatives. The early days of the coalition was almost like long lost friends who’d forgotten each other finally reuniting, rather than being a working relationship to aid the country at a desperate time. It gave the impression that yellow wasn’t all that dissimilar to blue.
  • Been more vocal about implementing progressively, rather than regressively, minded cuts to public services and the benefit system.
  • Been opposed to cuts to investment that ended up needing to be reserved to stop the detrimental effect on the “recovery” those cuts were having.
  • Talked much louder about the Liberal Democrat influence on the coalition while respecting the desire for the Conservatives to do the same. It was too late in the coalition life span that Clegg tried to find ways of differentiating the Lib Dems from the stories, despite the differences being obvious to those in the know.

These points are meant to address the fundamentals problems the Lib Dems faced in the coalition: the loss of the student vote and the assimilation of the Liberal Democrats into a light blue party (deep blue for those on the left), not a golden-yellow one, in the minds of the public.

In hindsight it would have been better for the Liberal Democrats to have been the opposition party. They would have gained further from the detachment the electorate has had over the last five years with the establishment. They would have been better positioned to achieve the aims they desired. Alongside that but the curse of the being the junior party in a coalition would have been avoided. The Liberal Democrats were dealt a terrible hand after the 2010 general election, they did an even worse job of making the most of it.

The Election Aftermath

Those seeking drama on election night certainly got it. The exit poll signalled what was to come when it underestimated a prediction that the Conservatives would not only be the major party but well ahead of a Labour Party facing decimation in Scotland while their former coalition partners getting annihilated across the country.

Not only that but their were seven Portillo Moments alone in this election. The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer Ed Balls, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and chief campaign strategist Douglas Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, key coalition negotiator David Laws, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Energy Secretary Ed Davey and former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy all lost their seats. The loss of the Ed Balls is the biggest shock, for unlike Douglas Alexander and the Liberal Democrats among that list, it had nothing to do with the SNP surge north of the border, or a violent swing away from the Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile we weren’t far away from including a clearly despondent Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on this list as well. The Liberal Democrats are back to the position they were in the 1970s, with a great deal of distrust and irrelevance gloomily hovering over the parties fortunes.

It’s safe to say that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in a complete state of utter shock. Both of their respective leaders are due to resign anytime soon. Far more worrying for both isn’t what just happened but what’s about to come. Labour can be expected to have a nigh on impossible situation to contend with made more difficult as the Tories consolidate their power with electoral boundary changes that will heavily favour the Conservatives at the 2020 election. Labour have lost their Scottish heartlands, most likely for a generation, and the Tories are now the party of the south given the Lib Dems wipeout plus UKIP’s failure to turn votes into seats. The challenge now is finding a way to enter deep into Tory, and former Liberal Democrat, heartlands. Failure to do so will result in Labour becoming irrelevant at the national level all together.

Both parties have deep existential questions to ask and answer quickly. With the obstacles now facing Labour, it has no choice but to redefine the left and carve a new identity which southerners and northerners alike can find appealing. Social democracy has limited appeal in the south, the Labour comfort zone must be abandoned. Yet a return to Blairism will only alienate Labour voters in the areas Labour still have strong majorities in, increasing the popularity of UKIP up north. The working classes no longer share the values of Labour and many young people don’t know what a trade union even is. In the long term it looks very bleak for Labour. It could easily take a decade for Labour to carve an identity, let alone exploit it to win a general election.

The Liberal Democrats face a more immediate threat to their survival. The new leader, most likely to be Tim Farron, will have to evaluate what they stand for post-coalition. Will the Lib Dems become a fringe protest party again or will they take some of the experiences of coalition and try be an opposition voice to the current government. The biggest threat to the Liberals isn’t finding a new identity as such, but ensuring they don’t cross the fine line between survival and extinction. The Liberals have the benefit of a rich tradition that could appeal more progressive inclined southerners. Some of they key seats the Liberal Democrats lost were close enough that with the right strategy and vision in place they could regain them potentially, especially if the Tories lurch too far to the right, getting them back into double figures. This alongside Labour ruthlessly exploiting the rebellious nature of the Tory right could in fact save both parties.

Meanwhile the Conservatives will lead a majority government unhampered by any pesky Liberal Democrat MPs. The biggest threat to Cameron now is if the 1992 election repeats itself for ill for the Tories, while avoiding the collapse of the Union and economic uncertainty resulting from an EU referendum. Having such a small majority made John Major vulnerable to the eurosceptic “Tory Bastards” that made that administration dysfunctional. If a repeat were to occur, the natural advantage the Conservatives now have over Labour could dissipate. To preserve the union David Cameron must lead the nation as a whole, despite a negligible presence in Scotland and the North of England. Devo-max must be granted to Scotland, the emphatic result of the night is the Scottish people voting for their autonomy. The Tories ran on a Thatcherite-lite platform in the election campaign, but run the country like a one-nation Tory. Is it possible for him to accomplish this?

For the Liberal Democrats and Labour introspection is needed to assern who they are and how they wish to appeal to voters. Yet the Tories have a key weakness, the potential for government instability. Both parties causing as much trouble as possible can give both parties a significant tactical advantage while granting time for both to determine what they want to be. The aim for the Tories is to be competent in government and stable, if it can achieve this it can shut Labour out for a considerable length of time.

Verdict on the Election Campaign

This general election has a fundamental paradox to it: it has been both incredibly exciting and boring at the same town. The excitement though is more focussed on how complicated it will be to predict who will form the next government, if one can be formed at all. In that sense, the best of the election campaign will arrive after 22:00 tonight. 

The campaigns have been so heavily scripted that they have been boring, it has also made it nigh on impossible for the parties to appeal to anyone but those already decided on who they want to vote for. The targeting of core voters and a bland appeal to centrist voters who have decided who they’d most likely vote for explains why neither the Conservatives or Labour have seen any dramatic shift in their polling ratings. There has been no game changing moments be that a major policy announcement, a gaffe or major event that could influence the result. The TV debates were laboured and only served to put the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon into the public spotlight. The rise of the SNP, since last years independence referendum, has been the biggest game changer. If not for that then the electoral boundaries would have heavily favoured Labour to be the biggest party in terms of the number of seats in the Commons. 

The paradox is the result of a rare occurrence in politics: a predictable monumental shift in the dynamics of voting. Usually monumental shifts leave us with crazy events like the Portillo Moment, or the election of Clement Atlee over and above a victorious war time Prime Minister. Such moments may yet occur, but most of them have already occurred. The rise of UKIP and the SNP (essentially the rise of rift and left wing nationalism) with the rapid decline of the Liberal Democrats have already made their appearance in the opinion polls. 

There has been no game changing moment like the first time the electorate saw the confident, articulate and unknown leader of the Liberal Democrats back in the 2010 debates. To a degree Nicola Sturgeon had this effect, though everyone knew the SNP we’re going to take almost all the Scottish seats anyway. Everyone knows about Nigel Farage. Plaid Cymru have limited appeal compared to the SNP. The only leader that could have benefitted from a Cleggmania-like phenomena is Natalie Bennett for the Greens, who botched up her moments to make the Greens a more visible and influential force in the election. The Greens should be regretting not having Caroline Lucas as their leader, she was the ace in the hole the Greens  needed to make their breakthrough.

An election this close with so many fringe parties holding influence has never happened before in a UK General Election, perhaps FPTP will provide the yawners some much needed drama. Unless some big events happen tonight and in the early hours of tomorrow morning, this will be remembered as the most exciting and undramatic election ever to be held. That’s what those in the media yawning at all of this have failed to grasp. 

General Election 2015 Endorsement

At the previous election in 2010, the author of the Mutualist endorsed the Liberal Democrats primarily due to ideological sympathies alongside a desire for a freshness to be brought about in British politics. The hope for the Liberal Democrats was for them to become the party of opposition, relegating the Labour Party to third party status. Alas, such hopes were based on political fantasy rather than a realistic expectation that Cleggmania would result in a significant increase in the number of seats held by the Liberal Democrats. Since then they have been the junior partner in a Conservative led coalition government in which they betrayed the student vote, while the author was a student at the University of Nottingham, and many anti-Tory protest voters. They have seen a humongous drop in their support, which is deserved in terms of betraying the student pledge.

The dismissal of the student pledge was concerning for two reasons. First, it signalled that the Liberal Democrats weren’t going to refresh politics by making it more transparent and honest. Breaking the pledge ensured they weren’t being honest and coalition negotiations behind doors could hardly be called transparent. Instead they did what Labour and the Conservatives have mastered, just in the plain idiotic fashion of doing it in the public light with many opponents gladly looking for the kill.

Second, it meant that the Liberal Democrats abandoned a long term aim to get young voters in the habit of voting for them by given them a mightily good reason to be pissed off (unlike the other bloc of voters just referred to). Evidence suggests it just takes three consecutive votes at a young age for the voter to become aligned to a particular party in the long term. Keeping hold of this bloc would have given the Liberal Democrats the foundations to use the coalition as a opportunity to become influential enough to be deemed a satisfactory contender to be the official opposition, and eventually the sole party of government. Instead they are now a bland centrist party hated by many but hoping to have enough seats to still be parliamentary kingmakers over and above the SNP.

Politically, the Mutualist couldn’t care less if anti-Tory protest voters got pissed off for voting for a party that “enabled” them in government. Those who vote to stop someone else coming in deserve to be pissed off at the very least when their vote doesn’t have the desired effect. Such forms of voting create information disformation in which it becomes unclear whether an electoral “victor” actually has an endorsement from the public (which the winner is gladly willing to claim to have been granted to serve their own interests), in the same way market liberals deem price controls a distortion of the information prices tell us about the market.

The Liberal Democrats are not as liberal minded as the Mutualist would like them to be, Political Compass has shown they’ve moved into the lower echelons of the right authoritarian quadrant rather than the right libertarian quadrant they occupied in 2010. They sacrificed a bloc that could have given them a big long term support boost. They have watered down their principles in the name of pragmatism. The defining attribute of liberalism is its basis in ideas and principles, to water them down is to water down the identity of the party.

The rich liberal tradition of the Liberal Democrats matches the core principles of the Mutualist position. The Mutualist deems the Liberal Democrats the best major platform in which its ideology can be promoted within overall. Entering power has had the negative influence of letting the party’s identity wane, yet the party has much more steel which can be used to implement the identity in actual terms. The Liberal Democrats are no longer a protest party.

The Liberal Democrats have shown they can be a responsible party of government. Their political immaturity has cost them dearly in terms of vote, but based on a purely centrist agenda the Mutualist would not consider any government that didn’t contain the strong influence of the Liberal Democrats. The deficit would be cut in a responsible way, while acknowledging that tax rises would be necessary to help cut the deficit. Further moves would be made to make Britain greener would be implemented ensuring influential climate sceptics in the Tory party are more muted. A coalition with Labour would result in a green government for sure.

The Mutualist, however, doesn’t accept the terms of the political debate from any point of the political spectrum; whether that be the left, the right or the centre. The focus on the nations balance sheet over structural reforms to the economy alongside the pressing need to get a green economy to help tackle climate change shows how out of touch the whole nation is to solving the problems of the two biggest problems facing us in the early 21st century: what a post-2008 financial crisis economy should like and anthropogenic-caused global warming. Despite the positive track record in government and natural sympathies the Mutualist at core has to the Liberal democrats, they do not get our endorsement.

Likewise the Mutualist can declare my lack of enthusiasm in both the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP. All the parties share this problem facing the Liberal Democrats, making pledges based on the wrong premises of the political debate. Though each one shares in its unique deficiencies.

Beginning with the Conservatives, they are the party that set up the political debate within the terms I find disagreeable. The focus on the deficit rather than the causes of the mess we are in (even to the point of stating that the mess we’re in was caused by the deficit) just had never computed with me since 2008. The agenda for the Tories is fundamentally regressive at heart, the implementation of further welfare cuts will only increase the number of people who’ll enter structural poverty in the UK. Welfare “cuts” are best implemented through the systemic reform of the market so as to make th underlying forces provide better standard of living so that significantly less need exists for the welfare. Cutting the welfare state doesn’t count as a systemic reform to the market mechanism as lack of will power has little to do with why so many workers are on low incomes, or why they can’t get a job in areas of the country still depressed from the crisis. Systemic reforms that undermine the necessity of such a large welfare state due to a rise in affluence for those on low incomes is the superior way of slashing the welfare bill than simply cutting it.

Far more concerning is the general lack of empathy many of their MPs have to those who end up being worse off due to the cuts. The story of an MP scoffing at a struggling disabled person hungry on the streets for not finding any work underlies that fact. The Conservative party cannot be trusted to look after the vulnerable in society, an economy in which we all are increasingly vulnerable.

Labour face the problem of being an old fashioned progressive party with a gaping hole in their agenda. Promoting predistribution during a time of austerity seems Ed Miliband’s ambition. By shaking up monopolies, Miliband would like to make the markets suitable for a fairer capitalism. Capitalism for the people is the goal for Ed Miliband, but I have no clear vision of this other than a hyperactive state willing to unwisely interfere in markets the wrong way. Rent controls and energy price fixes are not the way to go to reform markets. Admittedly the energy price freeze is a stop gap for a much broader reform within the energy markets, to help bring competition within the trouble. Alas, trying to make a natural ogliopoly a competitive market is a sure fast way to fail to deliver a capitalism for the populace.

The same applies to rent controls. Rents are too high because the value of land and housing throughout the country is too high. This is down to two factors: lack of supply for housing and, more importantly, the widespread phenomena of rent seeking in the economy. Rent controls will do nothing to change either of those two factors, instead they will distort prices in a dysfunctional market. Distorting prices when they’re already distorted is one thing, but not when they’re communicating valuable and correct information (that the housing market in the UK is fucked).

The Mutualist favours liberalising trade union regulation to help give workers more bargaining power in the labour markets. Labour are not a vehicle for that any more. The Coop party is in favour of mutual organisations but are far too socially democratic minded, rather than liberal minded, for the Mutualist’s liking.

I take the label of left libertarian because the label left liberal wouldn’t accurately describe my beliefs. Too call yourself a left wing market liberal lacks a certain elegance the position deserves. Yet I’m not opposed to state interference when it is deemed necessary and done in a compotent manner. In the case of the energy and housing markets Labour are right to think interference is necessary. Labour though want to interfere too much and in an incompetent fashion.

The Mutualist doesn’t question the heart of Ed Miliband; but he hasn’t got the analysis, vision and plan to address the concerns that should worry us all. Labour need to become the spearhead of a new left, Ed Miliband hasn’t done that. Alas, in taking Labour closer to their traditions he has helped resurrect the spirit of statism.

UKIP are a xenophobic party that cater to the ignorance of those hit hard by the financial crisis. Improving the lot of reactionary white working class men may disgust some on the left, if a progressive social outlook in which xenophobia and homophobia are to see there fires extinguished the source of their anger must be dealt with. Improving the economy so it works for them is a must. If after all this is accomplished and their bigotry still is hyperactive, then fuck them. The focus on the EU and immigration are red herrings in the election debate. They deserve to be treat as such.

Given the lack of interest in nationalist policies, this leaves us with the Greens. Like Labour they are statists when it comes to the economy, even more so. Rent controls seem to be fetishised by some on the left as the Greens wrongly think they can help. The revival of council housing, though, seems to be the primary weapon the Greens wish to launch in the war against unaffordable housing. This policy is attractive though I’d prefer a more mutual solution in which emphasis on common/shared, rather than state, ownership of such houses existed. Likewise I think mutualising, rather than nationalising, the railways is the way forward.

Yet the Greens wish to tackle anthropogenic global warming head on while wanting to introduce the Land Value Tax. Sadly the implementation of the tax is in addition to the income tax rather than its replacement as the primary form of taxation. The Greens are the only major party that also propose a Universal Basic Income, which is a fantastic policy to simplify the welfare state while providing the means for people to have a sufficient basic standard of living. The Mutualist also share the convictions of civic libertarianism that many Green members support.

With reservations the Mutualist would recommend, out of all the “major” parties, the Greens in the 2015 General Election. Key policies the Mutualist deems essential to the future prosperity of the country are advocated by the Greens. Yet they lack the conviction in the theoretical benefits policies like the land value tax can provide overall to the economy. This is a consequent of being too drawn to a face value analysis as to why markets fail to deliver equality, resulting in a party that is not as economically literate as it should be to solve the problems the Greens rightly see as being important in the current scheme of things.

The Freedom Party, the Pirate Party, the Liberal Party and the Young’s People Party would all have been strong contenders for our endorsement if they were national parties, i.e. they had candidates competing for almost every constituency. If any of their candidates are up for election in your constituency, though, give them your vote. We are particularly attracted to the Liberal Party which offers a more centrist version of what the Mutualist would like to see a political party offer while in government. The others are all great choices as well, though we have reservations about the YPP’s stance on climate change. The Freedom party supports a basic income scheme and the Pirate Party is strong in wanting to reform copyright law while protecting civil liberties. The YPP is a geolibertarian party that wants to tackle the housing and land crisis many are afflicted with.

Otherwise, the Mutualist recommends either spoiling the ballot paper for those more repelled by the Greens statism, those completely sceptical about the democratic process, or for those that see nothing but malovence in the existence of a state. The Mutualist advises spoiling the ballot as it is a proactive, rather than apathetic, form of protest.

Will a Land Value Tax stop Boom and Bust?

One of the most convincing arguments in favour of an adoption of an Land Value Tax is that it will stop, or make it difficult, for credit booms to occur. By stopping such booms from occurring, it can help ensure that the economy, especially the financial system, doesn’t become to indebted and thereby come unstable enough that a crash will ensue. If a LVT could have such an effect on the economy, then a LVT would go a long way in not only funding government activities but also ensure that there is less a need for governments to run deficits to alleviate the economic condition that result from a crash.

The benefits that a Land Value Tax could give to the economy in the wake of what recently happened in 2008 should be very appealing, if true. Such a benefit should make anyone support a land value tax, even if they don’t agree with the philosophical principles of Georgism in regards to the nature of land and its appropriation.

What is it that causes boom and busts? This question is a very theoretical and abstract question, primarily because it makes no specific reference to any specific economic event. Many different theories exist why booms and busts exist from the belief that government interference in the economy causes such phenomena to the view that too much money or too little money exists within the money supply.

The Georgist’s theory relates the phenomena of credit formation with the appropriation of land and its resultant speculation afterwards. Booms occur because far too much credit exists within the financial system, making the economy too indebted. Such levels of debt make the economy unstable as far too much income ends up being spent of deleveraging rather than economically productive activity. Which is what happens in a bust: debt deflation. Georgists will hold similar views on the cause of economic depressions as Hyman Minsky and Irving Fischer.

So what has a land value tax got to with the credit cycle? Georgists go a step further than Minsky and Fischer and try find the cause of the credit cycle in the first place. It all has to do with the price of land and how it is acquired. Land speculation is a phenomena in which land is treat as an asset to gain money from without doing any productive work on such land. Essentially, the value of land increases making the cost of owning a home more expensive. This increases the overall size of mortgages, which are deemed assets to the banks. As the rise in asset value occurs due to inflating prices of mortgage loans and the security asset that underpins them, the bank has a greater amount of assets on its side of the balance sheet, Selling such mortgages to other financial institutions gives the bank ability to expand its reserves, which gives the bank a greater ability to issue more loans elsewhere in the economy. Whether that be business loans, takeover loans, home loans or even further mortgages. Such an expansion of reserves is made possible due to the fractional reserve banking our financial industry operates.

Such land speculation, which can also be called rent-seeking, is the root cause of how credit expansion forms. Credit expansion leaves us with more money to buy stuff thereby inflating the economy. Greater levels of credit fuel more land speculation which fuels the credit boom even further and further. More credit will mean more money floating around making it easier to conduct other forms of economic activities that may, or may not, be productive. This cycle exists until the system becomes too unstable and destabilises due too much leverage within the economy, causing a spell of deleveraging causing a recession/depression.

The land value tax is designed to tackle land speculation by enforcing the principle that when such speculation occurs you pay a larger amount of money in tax, offering you a disincentive to raising the value of land. As no such incentive exists to speculate on land, the value of land will not increase at dramatic rates ensuring that a quick rise in the asset value of the banks wont occur. This makes it harder for the bank to build up reserves so that it can issue credit. Indirectly, the land value tax imposes a discipline to the creation of credit that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t tax land values, such as we don’t nowadays.

There are three principles objections to this argument. First, that land is not the principle cause of the vast amount of credit being formed in the economy. Second,  the argument ignores the fact that Minsky argues that credit formation is inherently unstable.

First, there are two ways in which land speculation can lead to an expansion of credit. We have the initial act of the issuing of a mortgage which accounts for land and house price [as the former helps determine the latter] by a bank placing such an act onto the asset of the bank, thereby the bank issues deposits as a liability which is a form of credit. This is the immediate way in which credit expansion.

We then have the issuing of mortgage backed securities [MBS], home equity asset backed securities and collatarised debt obligations [CDO]. These are financial instruments used to help finance particular activities which using conventional forms of finance couldn’t occur within the market. Such instruments can help provide greater market liquidity than would otherwise exist due to the type of asset, i.e. mortgages, in question. It’s this greater liquidity to help finance other ventures which helps create even more credit than would otherwise exist. These instruments themselves are forms of credit so the natural use of such instruments expands the quantity of credit. These instruments, especially CDO’s and home equity asset backed securities, are based upon high risk mortgages assets.

Take MBS’s leading to the financial crisis, they were used to finance subprime mortgages. Subprime mortgages were loans to allow those who could not normally afford a home to go and buy one. The introduction of such mortgages what Minsky would call Ponzi finance, primarily due to the entirely speculative nature as to whether the mortgage would get paid off. The introduction of Ponzi finance into the financial system is what ensures such systems become unstable.

So what has a land value tax got to do with this second way in land prices affect the formation of credit? These securities tend to be very risky assets. If the housing and land markets are booming though, with little empirical evidence plus market euphoria, what Keynes would call ‘animal spirits’, to point to prices not to drop, then financiers will calculate the risk of defaults in the collateral of what structures such instruments to be low. Thereby making such securities seem safer to trade. This is acknowledged by the use of credit agencies foolishly given out AAA rating to CDO’s.

The theory of the land value tax tells us though that such booms in land prices would not occur, so such animal spirits could not develop for financiers to think that these instruments were much less riskier than they actually were. The risk of default in a market in which land prices were more stable would increase due the dynamism of the market meaning home owners would not necessarily to be able to finance their mortgage increasing the probability of default.

Some Georgists will find such reasoning problematic because the implementation of a land value tax would need reforms to the land market, meaning no mortgages could exist to finance such land as land would be a commonly owned asset. The tax would be a rent paid to society for the exclusive usage of commonly owned. Due to this, the mentioned securities and financial instruments could not exist as there would be no mortgages to secure them. Such concerns are worth noting primarily due to the fact the implementation of the land value tax will obviously shape the overall economic structure, specifically in the land market.

To answer the objection directly, the size of the market of mortgages, subprime mortgages and financial instruments tells you that a large part of the financial sector is heavily and directly related to the land market. It would take a thorough investigation on the dynamics of the financial system to see how far land speculation accounts for the tolerance of the financial system to create so much credit. In other words, the land value tax will go a long way in reducing the size of credit formation in the financial system. The usage of other taxes may be needed, but we are not arguing for a single tax.

IMF Diagram on the Theory of CDO's
IMF Diagram on the Theory of CDO’s

Third,  it is true the argument fails to take on board that fact. However, the implementation of a land value tax should reduce the amount of credit than can be formed by a significant factor in the economy. This should mean that when busts occur, they will also be significantly smaller in size. They’ll be more manageable for the market and state to respond to the challenges that busts provides. So the land value tax would act as a regulation on the scale of boom and busts rather than a device to eliminate. Mitigating busts is a good reason to implement the land value tax.

The Shadow Bench’s Stupidity

The Guardian has reported today that twenty shadow ministers are prepared to dislodge Ed Miliband as the leader of the Labour party if Alan Johnson, who successfully managed the job of shadow chancellor for quite a time, were to put his name forward for becoming Labour leader. Such an act is utterly stupid. The electorate don’t rate Labour because it doesn’t offer an entising vision for the future of the UK. This is the fault of not only Ed Miliband, but the shadow ministers themselves whose performance as the Opposition has been lacklustre.

With such a lacklustre attmept to oppose the action’s of the coalition government, why the hell should the British public believe that the replacement of Ed Miliband as leader with anyone would change the perception of Labour in the public’s eye? The British public have no reason to think that a new leader has better ideas and plans for the country than Miliband. A coup will only demonstrate that victory and defeat matter for Labour, not proving to be a choice that voters may find appealing. A choice that suggests Labour can take the initiative in setting the political agenda.

If Labour wish to change the leader of the party, it must do so because it wishes for a differing vision of how to achieve victory at the election than Miliband. No one though is providing such a vision, a sense of charisma, of how the party will be taken forward. How the country will be taken forward? How the economy will be taken forward?

This is the problem Labour face. They have no vision, no coherent set of values to guide the party. The website of Labour doesn’t even contain a values page. Instead, meaningless phrases as branded about which are meant to reflect upon what Labour stands for: nothing. One-nation Labour is meant to represent what? A belief that Labour should be the Wet Tories rather than the Dry Tories? In what way can we become a united nation with such large geographical and socioeconomic divides existing within our country?  Without such basic and foundational institutions, the party has little hope of leading the country into any direction whatsoever.

In the wake of Labour’s crushing defeat in 2010, Ed Miliband was gifted the opportunity to shape Labour into a party that could enact a vision, an ideal, for a new way to do economics. Ed Miliband has failed to provide such an ideal. His shadow cabinet have done just as well at not bring a vision to the table. Eventually what follows is that coherent plan, or any sort of a plan at all ca be drawed out and presented to the electorate.

Labour lack their priorities. Go to The Shadow Chancellor, the shadow minister specialising in the most important issue that will occur in the election, is hidden out of the way. Considering the Home Office are meant to tackle issues like immigration, another big issue, Labour feel the Deputy Leader of the Party and the Foreign Secretrary are deserving of more notice.

Everything points to Labour being a directionless party under Ed Miliband, but who else is there? Alan Johnson, who quickly got replaced by the maligned Ed Balls? The timing is such that even if Alan Johnson did have the vision and ideals, he has little time to implment them into a narrative. Labour make no sense, it would be an act of stupidity to find a new leader at this time.

Left Libertarianism and the Democratisation of the State

Featured is a comment by Chris Whitrow arguing that left-libertarianism should be an ideology focussing upon democratising the power relations between an individual and the state so that those relations become inverted. In effect, Whitrow is arguing that we should most away from a democracy where we elect our master, i.e. representative democracy, and move to an alternative form of democracy. Presumably, he’s implying that a move to a participatory democracy is the best way to form a libertarian society. Liberty isn’t achieved by abolishing the state or trying to reduce its size in the conventional sense that libertarians usually think in terms of. It is achieved, rather, by overhauling the power relations that exist between the citizen, the subject, and the state in favour of a new form of power relation in which the state serves the citizen, rather than the alternative way which we live in now.

A lot of what is written in this essay are based upon presumptions and theories I deemed necessary to uphold to try argue as forcefully as possible in favour of a inverted state. Unless actually stated in his comment as posted above, you should presume that these are my own thoughts and opinions on the subject matter not Chris Whitrow’s. This essay is not an argument in favour of an inverted state, instead it an exploration of a vision of what it would look like. The essay is designed to provoke new thoughts and perspectives about how a libertarian society would look like and what constitutes a libertarian society.

It should be assumed that I’m referring to a throughly decentralised society throughout this essay, not centralised forms. It is the intention of this essay to elucidate a differing form of libertarianism, but I will admit my language is very atypical from normal libertarian language.

I am also speaking very abstractly about libertarianism in general. They are many schools within the movement some of which may have a noticeable influence in the essays, wile others will have none. Left and right libertarianism are seen as guides to reflect differing social attitudes and priorities among libertarians, the labels are not to be taken too seriously.

Liberty and Coercion as Conceived in Classical Libertarianism

Such a conception of libertarianism relies on a fundamental conceptual difference to the contemporary way in which libertarians conceive of liberty. Contemporary libertarians, left and right libertarians who aren’t libertarian socialists, conceive of liberty as the absence of external influences in forcing you to make choice. Another way to rephrase that liberty is the freedom to not be coerced by others. All libertarians recognise that, by definition, the state is ultimate agency that can coerce an individual into performing particular acts that person may wish to not undertake.

Right libertarians like to think in terms of the state enforcing political correctness laws onto them, imposing taxes they would much rather not pay at all and regulation on business practices for a non-exhaustive list. Left-libertarians tend to focus not only upon what the state can coerce, but how culture and institutions within society can discriminate against particular groups. Left-libertarians are also more likely to think in terms of how a monopoly of land usage and how businesses/corporations are structured can result in coercion occurring.  Left-libertarians are more likely to favour liberalising trade union laws in order that labourers can have the right to organise amongst themselves to promote their own common interests in society.

Left-libertarianism essentially has a far more expansive notion of what acts of coercion occur within society with dis-empower individuals, thereby ensuring that individuals are not as free as a right libertarian would think. At the core essence of this is a distinction between the the left and right conceptions of coercion. Coercion for the right is the ability of an external agent to force yourself into making a decision you wouldn’t have done otherwise or if you would do it that it could not be said you did of your accord. Say you would give a donation to charity purely of your own back. That is a voluntary exchange. If the government forced you into making that donation, that is an act of coercion even if you were intending to give the donation voluntarily anyway. The main injustice right libertarians have against coercion, though, is when the individual wouldn’t otherwise commit to an act; like if the person wouldn’t give to charity because they didn’t want to, they didn’t agree with the cause of the charity or thought the charities cause was unimportant.

Prima facie, the left libertarian may fully agree with that conception as explained. The difference between the two conceptions is how we apply this definition to contracts. Right libertarians make the presumption that contracts are voluntary agreements between two agents that stipulates they will do x and y for one another. An example would be a labour contract, in which the worker agree to provides labour for the company in exchange for a wage. The contract might be a form of credit: I will lend you x amount of money if you’ll pay me x amount back at time t with y% interest applied to x. Even though the contract will coerce an individual to behave a particular way, it is still considered voluntary because both agents mutually and voluntarily agreed to enter the relationship.

The left-libertarian will share these sentiments, but only under a specific set of conditions. Some left-libertarians, for instance, will oppose contractual arrangements in which exploitation occurs, e.g. contracts specifying an individual can be a slave to another or that workers shouldn’t be allowed to form, or be part of, a trade union while labouring for a company. Not all left-libertarians will agree, and some right libertarians will agree that slavery is an abomination to one’s liberty.

Power Relations and the Natural Origin of Power Relations Hypothesis

Why is this relevant to Chris Whitrow’s comment on democratising the state rather than minimising it or abolishing it? It all has to do with how power relations are conceptualised and the intrinsic valuation of whether we can consider such a relation good or bad. We must first identify what the power relations are. On the issue of contracts, both the right and left will agree that a contract is a power relation. They will disagree though on the power dynamics at work when the contract was initially signed and its significance on the impact on the liberty of those whom the contract is concerned about. Left-libertarians acknowledge that when a worker signs a contract, they may be doing so with a bad bargaining hand. The worker may be impoverished desperate for any increase in their income so they can keep feeding the family and sheltering them.

This is why a left-libertarian may oppose a contract that stipulates that a worker cannot organise themselves amongst trade unionists. The trade union gives the worker the opportunity to address this power imbalance so that a more voluntary agreement between the two agents can occur. The right-libertarian will be concerned that this power dynamic will go the other way and it is the union that dictates to the company what the labour contractual agreement should be.

Here is where Whitrow’s insights come into play. We now have a situation in which the left and right are willing to acknowledge power dynamics are at work which can effect the nature of how a voluntarily contract is agreed upon. In other words, power relations are important in determining the nature of a voluntary agreement between two agents. To simply have a pure negative conception of liberty though is inadequate in this case, for negative liberty takes no account as to what the power relations between ‘free’ individual are. As the conception of negative liberty is central to the libertarians focus upon reducing the size of the state, it’s inadequacy speaks for the effectiveness of the libertarians solution to free us from state coercion.

How can the libertarians respond to this challenge? The right libertarian will deny that the worker is disadvantaged in negotiating the labour contract in the first place, the labourer doesn’t have to choose to work for the company. The worker can choose to live a life of voluntary poverty if they so wish. It is their choice that they wish to want to have a greater standard of living in materialistic terms, rather than a spiritual enlightened ascetic lifestyle. Jean-Jacques Rousseau famous quote stated that:

Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.

The right-libertarian would amend Rousseau’s quote to say this:

Man is born free and everywhere chooses to live within chains.

Those on the left with either sympathise with the claim that the labourer could choose a lifestyle of voluntary poverty, but would emphasise it would be wrong for such a person to be penalised by the respective culture for living an alternative lifestyle; or they would condemn this as a rationalisation of the plutocrats to enforce poverty onto those beneath them in the social hierarchy. These latter left-libertarians find an abhorrence in poverty, which they wish to see destroyed.

The concern of the left-libertarian is that living the alternative lifestyle, not something to be intrinsically condemned or even better something to be outright advocated, will lead to a systemic oppression against such individuals and groups. History is littered with groups in society who live by differing norms only to find themselves persecuted either through violence or being treat as subhuman. The right libertarian should be equally appalled at the use of violence against alternative lifestyles, even if they personally found such lifestyles disgusting, but being treat as a subhuman does not necessarily mean you are being coerced. Which again highlights us to different perspectives on what constitutes a power relation. The left say the gypsy being treat as a subhuman, or as an outcast, is the primary group exercising their power to demonise a sub group in the community. The right just see it as the free choice to protest against such a culture.

Now we have clarified what the differences, often subtle, between what constitutes a power relation in society we must address the question of how such appalling power relations are dealt with. Can the exercise of negative liberty grant the individual and communities in society grant them the freedom from such power relations which face ethnic, culture, racial, religious and sexual minorities, or in the case of women ‘majorities’, that allow oppression, persecution and discrimination to occur against them?  Will a simple solution such as the abolishment of the state tackle these power relations?

The answer to this depends on your analysis of the origin of power relations, or rather what the primary determinants of them are? This is the most fundamental question we have come across in our analysis, understanding the power dynamics between agents within a society usually tells us a great deal about the nature of that society, its values and its hierarchical structures. Let’s define society as a collection of agents in which social, power and economic relations exists among these agents. Let’s also suppose Nietzsche was correct in stating that the Will to Power is a determining factor in determine to how behave from a psychological point of view. Note: I’m not saying it is the only determinant of human psychology and Nietzsche would in fact say it was the determining factor of human psychology, not a determining factor.

It follows from these statements that power relations are a natural result of the psychology and behaviour of agents within the society. Some may consider this result a tautology, or even an act of circular reasoning, due to me defining power relations into the concept of society. This is not so. I have defined society in such a way to acknowledge that there exists power relations in society, I gave no definition of there origin. The result I concluded to though is a statement about were power relations originate. My thesis is what I called the Natural Origin of Power Relations Hypothesis. There is nothing unnatural about the existence of power relations, abolishing them would be tantamount to abolishing society. Yet social anarchism, the libertarian movement most inclined to abolishing power relations, relies upon a conception of an egalitarian society in which mutual aid occurs.

What role does the state play in all this? The state will be the agent that not only creates power relations naturally by what it is but also has the ability to enforce them onto others to an extent few others in society could. The inverted state libertarianism of Whitrow would suggest that the power relations of the state considered to be an evil are the result of the power dynamics between the state and its citizens. Further, that those dynamics can be changed to create a power dynamic that will result in an egalitarian society, or at least a more egalitarian one. The anarchist and conventional libertarian, on the other hand, will state that the power dynamic between the state and its citizens is the result of an intrinsic set of properties that the state must have for it to be considered a state. In other words, the unequal power dynamic is a necessary consequence of a state. It is this reason why the libertarian and anarchist will condemn an inverted state libertarianism, it is too naive on the operations of statecraft.

The inverted state libertarians will reply by arguing that the state cannot be the root cause of all the unjust power relations in society, in fact they derive naturally from society. How just the power relations are is a reflection upon how morally just the agents within that society are. In other words, how just a society is is a reflection of how morally good the inhabitants of that society are. The same is true whether a state exists or not, the hypothesis does not discriminate against the state being the primary agent causing power relations in society. The imposition of power relations can be as much a bottom-up process as a top-down one.

To stipulate that the state is the only root of unjust power relation does contradict the Natural Origin of Power Relations Hypothesis. The Hypothesis clearly stipulates power origins are a natural result of the behaviour of agents within society. It is natural for the state, an agent in society, to create power relations and enforce them to a greater extent than other agents. It is natural that the state would be the root of a lot of unjust power relations. But not all of them. It is a non-sequitur to argue from our thesis that the state can be the source of all the unjust power relations in society, assuming you are a left-libertarian because a right libertarian could acknowledge this to be true while being consistent. A unique property would have to be ascribed to states in order to justify the claim they were unique in developing unjust power relations.

Why does this matter? If the state is not the root of all unjust power relations, then even in a state of anarchy unjust power relations will exist. The State is to the libertarian what God is to Feuerbach; a projection the inner evils that we contain in ourselves. God is an idealised form of the pure goodness we all want to become one with, the state is our ultimate expression of dealing with the inner evils lurking within man. This expression of what the state is is what libertarians and anarchists find repellent in the state. Defeating that expression does not result in the evils within society disappearing, instead the power relations will manifest in a new form. Either a hierarchical anarchy in which those with a stronger will to power will rise to the high echelons of society, or the formation of a new state.

This is the Problem of Anarchism. How does it address the power relations that are a result of our own inner demons? To blame the state for all this is to confuse our inner demons with the manifestation of our symbolic description of them. The state is a body that acts as a tempter for vested groups to influence the activities of others to pursue their own goals at a greater advantage. This is what the Will to Power amounts to over an aggregate of people. Such a Will to Power will exist within an anarchy.

Inverted-State Left Libertarianism v Classical Left Libertarianism

Inverted-state left libertarianism is the ideology that power relations in the state must be decentralised and democratised in order the power dynamics existing between the state and the citizen are reversed. It is the state that becomes the slave, not individuals. ISL Libertarianism takes the left libertarians adoption of democracy in all realms of society seriously. The primary difference is that rather than abolishing the state to establish these new democratic institutions, the state will be reformed to incorporate these democratic institutions. The reason for this is because the ISL libertarian wants to radically transform the nature of the power relations that exist within our society, believing that the evils of the state are a result of extrinsic properties of how power relations are defined relative to the state.

Liberty will be achieved by empowering individuals so they no longer are controlled by power relations from others. The democratised state is designed to ensure that individuals and communities control their own power relations but not those that influence others. In effect, the primary power relation will be that the state enforces individuals to not enforce their on power relation onto others. However paradoxical this may sound, it is not incoherent and it is reflection of the influence of Natural Origin of Power Relations hypothesis on their thought.

Classical left libertarians don’t agree with ISL libertarians on two key points: first, that unjust power relations resulting from the state are in fact an intrinsic property of statecraft and secondly, that democratising the state will liberate individuals. Robert Paul Wolff elucidated an argument about how the state, by virtue of being the state, violates the free will of individuals thereby ensuring that they cannot be fully moral agents. His text In Defense of Anarchism is a classic on the subject matter and gets right to the heart of the attitudes shared by classical left libertarians regarding the first disagreement.

On the second point of disagreement, libertarian socialists agree that democratisation is essential for the establishment of an egalitarian society. The state though must be abolished and alternative institutions, such as communes and municipals, introduced as a replacement. New decentralised forms of governance will exist which are voluntary in nature. Even though the ISL libertarian may also support communes and municipals as forms of governance, they will be less inclined to adopt he voluntary aspect in so far as they are concerned that voluntarily unjust power relations will emerge. It would be the role of the state to enforce a participatory democracy in which discrimination doesn’t occur. Alternatively, a hierarchy is needed to preserve an egalitarian society.

Naturally, the two conceptions of libertarianism are intertwined. To support radical decentralisation will involve significantly reducing the size of a centralised state. Decentralisation of power will mean taking functions of power that we naturally take for granted in the state and diversifying it elsewhere. Decentralisation is a vague concept however. It’s vagueness is that it tells us nothing about how decentralisation will occur and what will be decentralised.  The only way decentralisation fails to be a vague concept is if the reader assumes a particular conception of decentralisation when using the term.

Argument For The Democratised State

To stand up to scrutiny, a democratised state must be able to argued for strongly. We have already seen one argument in favour of it through the Natural Origins of Power Relations Hypothesis. Such an argument though never really justified why we should have a democratised state, instead it gave us the persuasion that anarchy itself will not achieve that which it desires. Underlying that point was the assumption that democratisation the state may avoid those problems while preserving key points in favour of liberty, equality and decentralisation.

What needs arguing for? First, it must be argued that it is possible for such a state to occur. Second, can a democratised state be consistent with the concept of liberty? thirdly, the argument for state force in certain matter. Finally, is it possible for a state like this to exist in historical terms?

First, ISL libertarianism is arguing in favour of a participatory democratic state in which many citizens will have a great influence in the decision making process. Even though it may be practically difficult to administer such a state, we do have a concept of the state called a polyarchy. A polyarchy is a state in which power is multiple people. The founder of the concept, Yale Professor Robert Dahl, argued that we actually live in polyarchies rather than democracies currently. The reason being that the key criteria needed to establish a democracy do not exist in real life. We can state that a participatory democracy is a logical extension of a polyarchy, where the multiple people become everyone. This suggestion demonstrates the logical possibility of such a state.

We now need to address whether it is possible to actually define an egalitarian state. The key question here is whether it is possible to define a set of power institutions that are liberty enhancing and enforce an egalitarian distribution of power? Yes. It is impossible to argue for this here, but a cryptic answer would be to state that it as possible as developing the institutions of any egalitarian society. In other words, if it isn’t possible then left-wing thought is outright false in the sense it proposes to implement a political scheme which is impossible to implement. All forms of left-wing thought, whether anarchist or statist would fall at this point. The key insight is that even an anarchist society will have institutions of power. So the real question being asked is can you define an egalitarian set of institutions of power? If you can’t, an egalitarian anarchist society is as impossible as an inverted state.

Second, it is consistent depending upon your conception of liberty. If liberty is defined in a purely negative sense, or in a sense defined so that it is contradictory to the existence of a state, then obviously it is inconsistent. Unless there is a good argument for holding those specific definitions of liberty, this should be of no concern. A suitable definition of liberty would be the free expression of an individual’s will and the empowerment to act upon that will not at the expense of others. The first part of the definition is key in establishing negative liberty for individuals and communities, while the second part focusses upon the concept that to be free involves having a certain amount of power to act on those decisions. It should be noted that the concept of power does not refer to power over another individual or community, but the ability to perform such an act without restriction.

Third, we have the most controversial argument in libertarian thought, so controversial because it so seemingly violates the principles of libertarianism: the support of state force. Why should this be an advantage? In some scenarios it may be necessary for the state to define rules which indirectly influence people’s better to achieve better results For example, it may be necessary to implement a carbon tax to discourage behaviour that contributes to global warming. The state may need to define property rights in a specific way to make them more equitable for all in society; such as making land a common and personal property rather than private, or by changing intellectual property rights. Regulations on harmful market activities may need imposing, such as ensuring it is an obligation that free information on the finances and assets of the company are made available to the market so less asymmetric information exists in investing opportunities. Such interferences should still be significantly smaller than we see today though.

Finally, we can propose a hypothesis  about the the long term development of statecraft through history, which I have called the Evolutionary Trend for Decentralised Power in Statecraft Hypothesis. The hypothesis begins with assumption that the state consists of institutions of power. Over time, those institutions have been democratised from a highly centralised form of statecraft; such as from an absolute monarchy, feudalism and aristocratic democracy. The key point is that the decentralisation of power from a centralised state is an evolutionary phenomena. In each case, the operations of the state has been defined differently. For instance, in liberal democracies citizens have access to rights that they didn’t have in an absolute monarchy.

The next stage in the argument is that more revolutions on the operations of the state are required before it becomes a non-authoritarian entity. This evolution will involve further decentralisation of powers of the state and granting it to ordinary people. For instance, we might see a significant rise in economic democracy, so the economy would be the next major institution that will face decentralisation of powers.

The rise of the internet could be the beginning of a new institution of power in regards the state. The internet has seen a large rise in the amount of peer-to-peer connections making decentralised modes of power becoming more influential.

The key point here is that over the course of history, power is getting democratised and thereby decentralised. What is not being claimed is that power has been sufficiently decentralised, neither is what is being said is that only a moderate decentralisation of power is needed.  It is this reason why inverted state libertarianism is in fact a form of libertarianism, it supports radical decentralisation and democratisation. This is what makes inverted state libertarianism differ from the localist agenda seen within the Liberal Democrats.

The trouble with this argument is that ignores the centralisation tendency among states throughout history and recent times. At the beginning of human society, societies would have been far more egalitarian to the point of being communist like. Marx’s first period of history in his theory of historical materialism was primitive communism. Over time, monarchies and other forms of institutions that centralised power in the hands of a few. It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that this trend was broken in favour of more democratic forms of governance. Even in contemporary times, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher centralised authority in their respective parties during their reign’s as Prime Minister. Power was more decentralised at the top of the Conservative and Labour party before the 1980s.

Arguments Contra Inverted-State Left libertarianism

Only two argument have to be made against inverted-state libertarianism. If unjust power dynamics are the natural consequence of society, how can you be sure that an inverted state will not become corrupted by the emergence of such relations inevitable leading to a state of affairs like you see today? Would not granting individuals the lures of power also lead to a scenario in which hierarchical structures within the state and society would emerge? Would not the state that is meant to protect egalitarianism be used to defeat it only through a natural evolution?

The primary response would have to be that yes such patterns could very well emerge, but there is more of a chance that those effects will be mitigated due to how institutions of power within a democratised state are defined. We do not suppose that we will live in an utopia, but we can still live in a far more free and egalitarian society than we would today or if we adopted anarchism. This is more a concessionary argument on the line that this is the best solution to enhancing liberty and equality out of a bad bunch. It is a pessimistic thought pattern, natural when you consider the Natural Origin of Power Relations Hypothesis.

Second, would the transformation of the state come from a bottom-up or top-down reformation? If the latter, this would mean that a participatory democracy most likely would not ensue as you rely upon the existing states to give their power away. Not only that, but more importantly, it would be contradictory to the principles of decentralised democracy to impose such reforms from a top-down process. If the former however, how can this be achieved when states are so centralised in the first place and they most likely mould resist such attempts to transform? Inevitably, you would end up having to subvert the state in the exact ways anarchist groups currently do in existing society.


Inverted-State left libertarianism is very different form of libertarianism to contemporary versions. It enhances liberty through empowering individuals and communities by inverting the power relations between the citizen and the state. The currently existing power relations themselves is what troubles ISL libertarians the most, not the existence of the state. It is a more statist variant of libertarianism, it’s focus is upon decentralisation rather than minimising the state. Naturally, the state as it exists now would be greatly minimised once the decentralisation process is accomplished.

It does have its problems. We do not know what one would actually look like in either theory or reality. It is a vision of a potential libertarian society, in which the details are clouded over leaving the bare principles of how it would work. There is the strategic issue of how such a state could be implemented given that the currently existing state would be hostile to an inverted state. One of the arguments for this state also involves a more right-wing conception of how humans behave psychologically, which inevitably creates a tension given that it is a left-wing form of governance that is being promoted.

If this essay is successful, hopefully a left libertarian society resembling somewhat what Chris Whitrow wrote on the Liberal Conspiracy blog will have been explained in a manner in which either myself, or someone else, can flesh out in more detail over time.