Tag Archives: john stuart mill

Save Palestine by rediscovering the British Liberal tradition

Right now, as events unfold in Gaza, a test case is emerging for British Liberalism, and European Liberalism more broadly, the response to which will say a lot about the state it is in within Western Europe. That test case is the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.

For too long, some liberals have been indifferent to the persecution of Palestinians by the Israeli state, with the honourable exception of the Liberal Democrats. A lack of forceful criticism or forbidding expression of objection to the actions of the Israeli state, in the case of Emmanuel Macron, is to the disgrace of the noble cause of liberalism. That is why British liberals need to rediscover their liberal heritage to save the reputation of liberalism as something more than what cynics dismiss as mere talk.

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Is wearing a mask a civil liberties issue?

Some Libertarians in the US and elsewhere certainly seem to think so, and refuse to wear them. But we are not Libertarians, and as Liberals it is easy enough for us to justify asking others to wear masks by drawing on two principles described by John Stuart Mill.

In On Liberty Mill explores his political philosophy and expounds on the Harm Principle:

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

In other words, the potential for harm can outweigh the loss of liberty.

In Utilitarianism Mill develops this from an ethical point of view and outlines the Greatest Happiness Principle:

… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.

Whenever we, as a party, debate policy that might impact on our liberties, members tend to use one or other of these principles as justification for their position. For example, discussions some years ago about whether to ban smoking in public inside spaces often invoked the harm principle – smoking can cause physical damage to people nearby who are not smoking, including the people who work there. On the other hand, the powers adopted should be minimal, that is set at the lowest level to be effective, which is why we support outdoor smoker’s areas, where the harm is limited to the smokers themselves.

Posted in Op-eds | 54 Comments

Any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal the sugar tax

As the so-called ‘sugar tax’ comes into being, it’s worth remembering just how poor a piece of policy it is. The sugar tax is regressive, it is ineffective and it is illiberal; any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal it.

The pre-amble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats commits the party to both the fundamental value of liberty and ensuring that no-one is enslaved by poverty, the sugar tax fails on both these counts.

First and foremost the sugar tax is illiberal. If we accept that philosopher John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’, the idea that power should only be exerted over an individual against their will if it is to prevent harm to others, is a cornerstone of liberal thought, then quite clearly the sugar tax fails this test. The consumption of sugary drinks poses no threat of harm to others, and as such the state has no business attempting to reduce their use. Whilst you could argue that the ‘harm’ to others associated with the consumption of sugary drinks is the additional strain this may put on the health service, if you were to follow this argument through to its logical conclusion you would advocate taxing gym memberships, as injury sustained through excessive exercise would too place a strain on the NHS. Clearly, this is nonsensical.

To add to this, not only is the sugar tax illiberal but it is also regressive, as it will disproportionally affect those on the lowest incomes. This is both because they are more likely to consume non-diet soft drinks than wealthier individuals, and also because tax rises such as this will take up a larger proportion of the poorest individual’s budgets. Evidence suggests that for individuals with a high sugar diet, taxes do little to reduce their consumption, and as such the sugar tax is all cost and no benefit to those whose disposable income is already low. Far from lifting people out of poverty, the sugar tax further condemns them to it.

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Has social media compromised liberty?

Do we lose the right to privacy when we involve ourselves in social media? The obvious answer to this question is “of course not” and that should be the case, but is it?

Facebook, a business that started around 2004, has announced it has over half of all internet users in the world on it; in six years Twitter had over 100 million users. Recently, the US State Department asked Twitter not to carry out regular maintenance during the recent demonstrations in Iran as information was being disseminated through Twitter. A similar use was made of Facebook during the uprising in Egypt. Social media platforms on the face of it can be a profoundly pro-liberty force. John Stuart Mill wrote about liberty as freedom not only from coercion by the government but also from the constraints of social conventions, so is social media the answer?

Unfortunately, social media companies focus really on advertising. Google, for example, generates 23% of all US advertising revenue, more than twice that of all print media. The ever-increasing user base of social networking sites tends to require your name, date of birth, and in many cases education and employment details. Many identity thieves tend to hack their victim’s email accounts by simply using the personal information available from such sites and, for example, use the “Forget Password” facility or get access using spyware. Selling data to advertisers is lucrative and this is being done by social media companies and unscrupulous people.

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John Stuart Mill would have supported hard Brexit, says Boris

From the Guardian:

The foreign secretary called (the EU) a “teleological construction” that was “ends driven”. He said the founding fathers of the common market decided to create a “new sense of political identity by legal means” – but claimed this went against liberal thinking. “(John Stuart) Mill would say that the national group, the group that most associate with each other, govern each other. But this was a new idea to try to transcend that.”

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Opinion: Land Value Tax – an old idea with lots of modern supporters

Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations (1776) was an early proponent of land taxes as was that great radical Tom Paine.

John Stuart Mill was an advocate and Henry George put the case in ‘Progress and Poverty’ (1879).

The economist David Ricardo gave us the concept of economic “rent” – that land or property derives its value from scarcity rather than investment.

In the debates before and after the peoples budget of 1909 both Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George argued strongly for the introduction of a land tax.

The economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman recommended Land Value Tax (LVT) for …

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Question: Big or small government? Answer: effective

One prominent member of Liberal Youth hits the nail on the head when she says ‘ frankly sick of all this I’m a social liberal so I’m a better Lib Demno it’s Orange Bookers that are real Lib Dems… we’re in the same party ffs.’

And the contrasting Economist correspondent missed the target by a mile when he wrote – following our last conference – that ‘the Liberal Democrats are still in denial about their innate dividedness.’

You see according to this correspondent – quoted again in The Week – he has had a brilliant insight: ‘You cannot be both for, and against, the Big State.’ But whilst his truism is logically …

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John Stuart Mill symposium – Saturday 14 November, LSE, London

One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1859, the great Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill published his most important and enduring work, On Liberty. Used today as the symbol of office of the President of the Liberal Democrats, On Liberty emphatically vindicated individual moral autonomy and celebrated the importance of originality and dissent. It set out the principle, still acknowledged as universal and valid today, that only the threat of harm to others can justify interfering with an individual’s liberty of action.

Mill himself was not only a philosopher, but also an economist, journalist, political writer, social reformer, and, briefly, …

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No, Christopher Wren and Isaac Newton were not great MPs

Matthew Engel in today’s Financial Times has a pop at our current MPs, saying:

The House of Commons used to be filled with men of renown. Sir Christopher Wren was an MP. So was Sir Isaac Newton – and John Stuart Mill.

It’s an easy jibe to make – ‘MPs aren’t as good as they used to be’ – but his examples seem to me to be rather badly chosen. John Stuart Mill, I’ll grant you, was a man of renown and an admirable, hard-working MP who used Parliament to promote the causes he believed in.

But Isaac Newton? He barely contributed …

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