21 November 2007

Can anyone name a freer decade to live in Britain than the present one?

This is a question that I asked in the comments over at Devil's Kitchen. No-one so far has felt inclined to...
give me an answer. Here is the full comment I left;

Guys, the problem I have with your sort of liberty is that it is purely based on wealth and privilege. The more wealth and privilege you have, the more liberty you have - surely this cannot be right.

For liberty to be meaningful, we have to enhance opportunity and that means more than just reducing the role of the state. The ballot box and through that the (hopefully democratic) state is a useful bulwark for the poor against coercive and oppressive forces, whether cultural, religious, big business etc. In my mind these are much bigger threats to our liberty than the current government.

Can anyone name a freer decade to live in Britain than the present one? Like all conservatives - you look backward to some nostalgic period that never actually existed.

Would you prefer the social and class ridden repression of the pre 1970s? The closed shop of the 1970s? The riot torn class war, quango imposed pin-striped corruption and abolishment of local government of the 1980s? The overt racist, sexist, homophobic pre 1990s?

There are many things I can agree with you guys on - a citizens basic income would free people from benefit dependency and low wage hell, legalisation of drugs would halve crime and reduce harm to users, certainly de-criminalise prostitutes (and criminalise their clients instead). But I can also disagree - (mark - the smoking ban has been a huge success - smoking did great harm - now people are protected - their lives enhanced and fox hunting like dog fights and bear baiting is animal cruelty and should be prohibited).

Like all conservatives, your liberty is wedded to privilege. You are blind to wealth inequality as a barrier to liberty. There obviously is no perfect solution to this, but my aim is to maximise liberty for all, not just those who can afford it.

I was asked if I was conflating wealth and privilege and define what I meant by both in the context of this post.

Wealth is obvious, privilege can be anything from a good education to having parents that do not beat you. Obviously there is an overlap between wealth and privilege, as one can often mean the other is present as well, but both wealth and privilege can give opportunities and choice that is just not available to others - it is this that enhances liberty at the expense of others. I see the state - controlled through the ballot box, as the only means of redress for those without wealth and privilege.


  1. Yup, the decade when I am Prime Minister will be the freest.

    I will shut down Whitehall and devolve all power back to local councils.

    The only 'national' things left will be a low flat rate of income tax, land value tax, universal benefits and defence.

  2. "Can anyone name a freer decade to live in Britain than the present one? "

    1900 to 1910.

    Next question?

  3. Tim Worstall wants to go back to Edwardian Britain 1900-1910. Thanks Tim for being the only bloggertarian brave enough to give an answer - at least we now know where you stand. Now lets look at a few pointers to what you are taking us back to in terms of liberty.

    The class system was certainly more rigid than today - with terrible levels of inequality and very low social mobility and the lower classes were segregated from 'polite society'.

    Most people had not got the vote, including all women.

    Social attitudes were truly terrible. Women were considered the property of their husbands and unable to run their own financial affairs.

    Homosexuality was a capital offence.

    Child labour was still common and education was not state funded.

    Health services were out of the price range of the majority.

    The murder rate was 10 times that of today.

    Somehow I can imagine Tim fitting in well with this awful 'back to the future' vision. It would be a truly illiberal place to live for anyone outside of the rigid 'social norms' and impossibly illiberal for those without wealth.

  4. "Can anyone name a freer decade to live in Britain than the present one? "

    1900 to 1910

    Not if you were gay, Tim. Not if you were a woman or one of the 40% of adult men who did not have the right to vote. I would consider that 'freedom' encompasses the right to political self-determination, which millions of adults did not have before 1918.

    Homosexuality was a capital offence

    Jeez, Neil. Do you know what a capital offence is? One for who you could be executed. 'Indecent' acts between men were illegal - Oscar Wilde got two years hard labour - but we are not talking about the fricking 16th Century here.

  5. Stephen, it depended on your class. Oscar Wilde was posh so got a lenient sentence. I think you will find that the maximum penalty was still death. These things tend to hang around on the statute book. It was definitely still a capital offence in the 18th century.

  6. Oscar Wilde was posh so got a lenient sentence

    Wilde's sentence was not lenient under the provisions of section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. He received the maximum penalty.

    "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency shall be guilty of misdemeanour, and being convicted shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour"

  7. Stephen, Ok, so I was 15 years out. 1885 - that must have been when the death penalty was repealed for homosexuality?

    Anyway, as you have pointed out, the basic point stands. The Edwardian period was a pretty dire time in terms of liberty, particularly for homosexuals, women and the working class. Tim Worstall is whistling in the wind.

  8. The murder rate in England and Wales in 1900 was 9.6 per million population, a figure which had dropped to 6.8 by 1965.

    It was 14.1 per million in 1997, and I believe it's gone up since then. The Scottish homicide rate is even higher - something like 32 per million - pretty impressive given Scotland's low ethnic minority population, which contribute about 20% of English homicide suspects.


    When you consider the improvements in modern emergency care, you'd expect homicides to decrease, all things being equal.

    Where on earth do you get your figures from ? Mine are from House of Commons Research Paper 99/111 - "A century of Change - Trends in UK statistics since 1900"

    Must dash - got to get this browen envelope in the post to whoever the Party Chairman is today.

  9. Bloody Blogger - try this link for Scottish and English murder rates plus ethnic minority contribution (natives are under-represented as perpetrators but over-represented as victims if Home Office stats are kosher)


  10. What brass neck! Cameras on every street, schoolchildren fingerprinted, ID cards to be introduced, dna databases full of innocent people, the list goes on and on. You should be ashamed, Labourite. All through the '80s when I was growing up, I thought the Tories were bad. You're a whole lot worse, and just as corrupt.