Child of Marx

When Kevin Rudd challenged for the Labor leadership, I was skeptical of Labor’s ability to pull together after the ballot. As it turns out, Kevin Rudd has done a superb job of holding the party together. He made a great start, and he’s been exceedingly clever in attacking the Howard government over a number of issues ever since. As a result, the electorate seems to love Kevin Rudd – if the polls are anything to go by. Labor looks more likely to win a Federal election than it has done in a very long time. I’ve been a fan of Kevin Rudd for some time, and even thought he could have won the Labor leadership in the wake of Mark Latham’s resignation if he had contested. However, as the masses fall in love with Kevin Rudd, my own opinion of him is steadily declining. The question is, has it declined so much as to make me reverse my pledge never to vote for John Howard again?

It was at the end of last year that Rudd wrote an opinion piece for The Australian titled “Child of Hayek“, which sought to equate John Howard’s policies with the views of the famed economist and social theorist Friedrich Hayek. The article then set about highlighting the differences between Hayek’s liberal views and those of social democrats such as Kevin Rudd. The problem is, his article vividly highlighted to me why I’m not a social democrat and, after a few moments thought, it also understates the reasons why John Howard most certainly is not a child of Hayek. If only he was!

Rudd, and other social democrats, imparts on the state values that can be meaningfully held only by individuals (compassion etc). He also makes the mistake, constantly made by the supporters of socialism, that individualism is the same as selfishness or egocentrism. It is not, and never has been.

After speaking about Hayek’s values, he says:

To values of liberty, security and opportunity, we add social democratic values of equity, sustainability and compassion.

So according to Rudd, “security” was one of Hayek’s values. In fact, Hayek wrote a whole chapter in The Road to Serfdom devoted to reducing the importance of security (social, physical and otherwise) so as to maximise individual freedom. He ends the chapter with a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin:

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

This remains one of my favourite quotes of all time, and I think it is particularly important in the world we find ourselves living in today. To my mind, the greatest security is to be found in the strength of our freedom. Furthermore, equity is one of the defining characteristics of liberalism, and historically not something that social democrats can claim to value to any large extent. As defined in the Merriam Webster online dictionary, equity is “justice according to natural law or right; specifically : freedom from bias or favoritism”. Liberalism is all about removing privilege from special interest groups. In fact, it is socialism, democratic or otherwise, which cannot help but enforce the privileges of special interest groups due to their proclivity to planning.

Rudd says Hayek also argued that any form of altruism was dangerous. This is not true. Here is what Hayek really says about altruism:

For our problem it is of minor importance whether the ends for which any person cares comprehend only his own individual needs, or whether they include the needs of his closer or even those of his more distant fellows – that is, whether he is egoistic or altruistic in the ordinary senses of these words. The point which is so important is the basic fact that it is impossible for any man to survey more than a limited field, to be aware of the urgency of more than a limited number of needs. Whether his interests centre round his own physical needs, or whether he takes a warm interest in the welfare of every human being he knows, the ends about which he can be concerned will always be only an infinitesimal fraction of the needs of all men.

He continues, thus (emphasis is my own):

This is the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy of individualism is based. It does not assume, as is often asserted, that man is egoistic or selfish or ought to be.

In other words, the individual judges by his or her own conscience what is important in the world. Delegating these powers to the state does not make society any more compassionate or humanitarian. It merely concentrates power in a single body, and severely reduces the individual’s freedom to choose. If Rudd, by social democracy, does not mean that these powers are vested in the state rather than the individual, then his attack on individualism becomes contradictory. So, we must assume that this is what he means.

Hayek has made the comment that primitive societies were reliant on altruism for their survival, but that does not in any way imply that altruism should be purged from the modern society. The modern society arguably operates more effectively where altruism is to be found. But a society based on liberal philosophy retains its stability when altruism is not always present. I think this is the difference. Rudd has introduced a non sequitur in making his argument.

Rudd also likes to tell us that he and other social democrats stand for a “fair go”. But what is a “fair go”? In a free market, a free society, all play by the same rules. There are no special interest groups. Everyone has an equal opportunity to gain wealth. Each person is free to spend their wealth as they see fit. Morality rests with the individual. It is the individual who must ensure a fair go for his or her neighbour. To take moral choices from the individual and give them to the state makes it impossible for the individual to exercise morality or immorality within that sphere.

This last point is what really irks me about socialism. Socialists claim the higher moral ground because they insist that when the state is given the power to make these choices for us, it is somehow better than leaving it to the realm of individuals. But what it really does is remove from individuals the necessity to make these choices at all. That is, socialism precludes the opportunity for individuals to make ethical choices, either good or bad. The state takes on that role instead. This inevitably means that it’s the wants and needs of the strongest special interest groups that are satisfied, to the exclusion of other groups. That is the only flavour of morality that can be exercised by the state. By removing the need for individuals to make these choices for themselves, people lose touch with each other and fail to consider the concerns of other individuals. Afterall, if the state’s got you covered (in theory, at least), why should I care? Why should I take any interest in your well-being? It is a fantastic myth, perpetuated by socialists, that because the market acts anonymously, our social interactions become likewise anonymous, thereby annihilating the social fabric. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is precisely individual liberty, as granted by unfettered markets, that compels us to take a direct interest in the welfare of our fellow human beings.

Just in case you still think John Howard is a Hayek worshipper, here is another quote from Hayek that I really like. It resonates directly with recent events concerning terrorism and newly introduced laws in Australia and in other Western democracies.

‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded.

And didn’t the Howard government just announce that they’ll be funding a campaign, to the tune of $2.5 million, to warn parents not to smack their children. If that’s not a sign of a nanny-state, I don’t know what is.

Finally, if John Howard is the market fundamentalist that Rudd says he is, how is it possible that The Prime Minister’s overall economic strategy places all our eggs in the resources basket? If Howard was a market fundamentalist he wouldn’t have any say in which baskets anyone’s eggs are placed in. Another contradiction.

Howard a child of Hayek? I don’t think so. But I’m beginning to think Rudd might be a child of Marx. Well, not really. But his preparedness to participate in an ANZAC day dawn service featuring a fake sunrise and then lie about his and his office’s complicity in the organisation of the event sounds quite Orwellian to me. His “management” of the media also leaves a bit to be desired at times. Finally, he either sincerely misunderstands Hayek, or he’s attempting to play on the perceived ignorance of voters by performing a character assassination on Hayek and then hoping to discredit Howard by associating him with this obscure man from the past. Either way, it’s not something one would hope for in a potential leader of our nation. Yet, despite all this, I still won’t be voting for the Liberals, which means Labor is in with a good chance of capturing the vote of this disillusioned voter. Lucky Labor.