That Broon meme

by Stephen Tall on June 14, 2007

With thanks to James Graham for ‘tagging’ me (why is the ‘blogosphere’ so afflicted with such infantilising terms?):

2 things of which Gordon Brown should be proud.

  1. Giving independence to the Bank of England.
  2. Having been on watch during a broadly benign economic cycle.

2 things for which he should apologise.

  1. Bank-rolling the Iraq war without a murmur of dissent.
  2. An obsession with centralization, targets and complexity which has undermined public services and made the lives of the poor much harder.

2 things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM.

  1. Introduce fair votes for all local and national elections in the UK.
  2. Scrap ID Cards, and strengthen Freedom of Information.

2 things he should do while he is PM.

  1. Oversee a comprehensive decentralization to local communities of power over public services and the taxation necessary to pay for them.
  2. Vigorously oppose protectionist interests wherever they exist, and unashamedly press for free and fair world trade as the best means of lifting the poorest out of poverty.

My turn to tag: Jonathan Calder, Cicero, Alex Wilcock, Andy Mayer, David Rundle, and Liberal Review.

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I, oddly, agree with almost everything in this post. Everything, that is, except for the conceptually-muddled and intellectually fraudulent final point.

Trade, by definition cannot, except accidentally, be both ‘free’ and ‘fair’. If it is ‘free’ it must be entirely free from governmental control. If we are to ensure that it is ‘fair’ (given the general understanding of the term ‘fair trade’ – payment of more than the market suggests is necessary for goods) we accept that the market does not do this on its own.

Free trade is not fair trade. Free trade is the way of distributing commodities with the greatest possible efficiency and responsiveness to the needs of those with the capital necessary to purchase those commodities. This is, at its very essence, not fair to those who are involved in ‘inefficient’ industries. A government cannot promote both ‘free’ and ‘fair’ trade.

We can see some of the benefits of removing all tariff protection from an economy in the first large economy to do so: Iraq. Interim Order 12 of the Iraqi Provisional Authority removed all tariff protection from all of Iraq’s industries (a key plank in Grover Norquist’s economic plans for Iraq). Within a year, unemployment had risen to 60%, as local industries went bankrupt.

One wonders why those Hayek-hounds who believe that we should have no tariffs on trade; a minimal, flat income tax only use to provide security services; a robust, armed populace; privatised public services are not all moving to Iraq, where they can find all of these things…

by Nathaniel Tapley on June 14, 2007 at 2:00 pm. Reply #

I wasn’t meaning ‘fair trade’ in that market-distorting sense – rather that the conditions of trade should be fair so all countries can participate on a level playing field.

by Stephen Tall on June 14, 2007 at 2:29 pm. Reply #


An interesting technique – you bookmarked all your excellent points with a first and last point with which I virulently disagree.

My emotions reading that piece were ‘oh bloody Stephen…oh, hang on, some of this is quite good…hmm, I agree with that too…oh BLOODY HELL!’


Best as ever,


by Matt Sellwood on June 14, 2007 at 5:55 pm. Reply #

It’s called triangulation, Matt 😉

by Stephen Tall on June 14, 2007 at 6:00 pm. Reply #

I was going to make the same point about “fair” trade. I spoke against converting LibDem policy fronm the traditional one of Free Trade to having some international body to regulate “fiar trade” policies designed to keep commodity prices up by prevent upcoming countries undercutting established markets.

Shortly thereafter i was expelled from the party on the gounds thattraditional liberal principles are now redefined as “illiberal” – or alternately that the party can no longer honestly be called Liberal.

by neil craig on June 17, 2007 at 2:39 pm. Reply #

I’m unsure as to whether the point even warrants a response, but nonetheless – regarding Hayek and Iraq (possibly even more tenuous than Iraq and European Monetary Union), liberals believe in a balanced environment in which all people’s views are tolerated and have a chance to operate in the political sphere, thus creating a stable framework for free trade and free thought to thrive. Iraq was raped by a despotic murderous thieving lunatic before being plunged into anarchic tribal civil war by foreign forces (a campaign not supported by liberals) – I’d have thought even the most ardent Marx-Hound would acknowledge that these are the cause of its problems, rather than free trade and low income tax.

I’ll quote Hobhouse (why not eh?):

“The heart of Liberalism is understanding that progress is not a matter of mechanical contrivance [JH adds: like so-called Fair Trade schemes], but of liberation of living spiritual energy. Good mechanism is that which provides the channels wherein such energy can flow unimpeded”

by Julian H on June 20, 2007 at 6:01 am. Reply #

re: free & fair
I disagree that freedom and fairness are mutually exclusive terms – it is only an insistence on an absolutist or theoretically purist position which says so.

For me liberal (and therefore also Liberal) has always meant a living, breathing freedom from dogma, which requires constant moderation and balance between the competing extremes, applied as and when and where relevant and practical.

So the idea of ‘free & fair’ is a positive challenge, not a static, stultifyingly doctrinaire position of ideological ‘free or fair’ smugness.

It is one of the tragedies of the age that the language of philosophic conception has been degraded by uniformly applied standardization of logical terminology, particularly how such a misleadingly simple oxymoron as ‘extreme liberal’ sends so many sensible people into sweats of dizzying confusion with outbreaks of panicky and unprincipled irrationality.

The main (and best) criticism of sham-liberal politics is incoherence, which is what leads to it’s collapse.

To reestablish our majoritarian appeal we need to reclaim our identity in the popular mind and escape the divisive polarizing tendency of linguistic innuendo – to do so will show we are prepared to govern, and govern well.

The spin-meisters of the current regime misunderstood this rule, and are being unravelled by their dishonesty in pretending to be all things to all people while simultaneously proving how equal a game of dice really is.

by Dan T. on June 29, 2007 at 2:55 pm. Reply #

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