Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Why do I hate the State?

It must be fairly clear that I'm generally anti-state. I'm never reassured to hear that sweeping new powers will be used with discretion by state employees. I'm never reassured to hear that a new body is being set up to coordinate things, oversee things, regulate things, and generally make the UK a nicer place. I'm positively frightened when the State announces that it's going to take steps to solve anything, in fact.

I've been wondering why this is. Other people seem to approach issues instinctively from a big state, socialist perspective. OK, they're wrong, although only in the sense that their ideas always prove to be expensive failures in the end, but their world view is far easier to explain. After all, if there is a problem, and there is a big and powerful government, surely it is a good idea for the government to take an interest in the problem and try to solve it? It is my world-view that is counter-intuitive, not theirs. It is mine that needs to be explained; everyone can see why socialists think the way they do (apart from the obvious reason, of course).

Freudians would say that odd views are the result of childhood traumas. Many and varied though they were for me (!), I doubt that any are to blame for a right-wing outlook. The main reason for this is quite simple; I only developed this outlook some time after leaving home. Before then, I was of a more Liberal persuasion, albeit a market-oriented Liberal (if such a thing is possible).

It was while pondering what experience might have triggered this view that I remembered some posts I made on B3ta. It's not a polite site, so don't follow the link if you're easily offended. However, one thing they do is to ask weekly questions and invite answers - preferably funny/rude/both. One question was about local councils, and why we disliked them. I posted my story about the time Council staff disenfranchised me because they couldn't be bothered to process the form. As that was the first General Election in which I should have been able to vote, and it looked as if the party I supported was going to need all the help it could get, I was a bit put out by that. To put it mildly.

Then there was the time when B3ta asked for stories about being really scared. I remembered the time my daughter might have been hurt; I was worried, and called on the State in the form of the NHS to help. Under cover of helping, it was clear that their main priority was to check up on me. I was left feeling as if I had called Big Brother; helping my daughter would have been a nice side effect for them, but the big prize was to prosecute me for neglect.

Or, I could cite the tale in which Mrs P was threatened with prosecution for fraud by the Inland Revenue. Admittedly, a mistake had resulted in her reclaiming more tax than she was entitled to. The mistake was theirs, though; she had not sought the money or mislead them in any way. Their mistake, her problem.

Or the time I asked why a police employee had been rude to me, and was threatened with prosecution for my impertinence.

So I think these stories highlight the basis of my outlook. Experience has taught me that the State pretends to be there for me, to help me, to support me, to keep me safe. But in fact, the result is a mix of self-serving laziness and inquisitorial aggression. It isn't there for me; it is there for itself and its employees.

Which is why I'd rather it left me alone. I'll look after myself, thanks.


  1. What is it you do as a "Patent Attorney" that allows you to claim "I hate the state" with a straight face?

    (This is just a provocative way of engaging in debate - you can of couse tell me to go boil my head and I won't take offence :)

  2. There is a difference between "law" and "state".

  3. Fair question, Davidncl. And a good answer already from BE.

    My work involves talking to inventors, understanding their idea, then persuading the Patent Office of the novelty of the idea until they grant a patent for it. Then, I might try to enforce that patent through the Courts, or help someone resist a third party's attempt to enforce the patent against them.

    The State's involvement in this is to provide a Patent Office with staff, and to provide a Court system. Both of these are, I think, core functions of a minimal State.

    That is, to my mind, the model for a proper State. Set the structures such as a system of Courts, then leave the rest to us.

    You'll notice, of course, that I spend much of my professional energy in argument with the Patent Office .... to which I seem to be temperamentally suited.

    You may also be pleased to hear of competition in the service of providing a Patent Office, in the form of the EPO...

  4. The reason that you hate the state is that your eyes have been opened, and if you have not already become a libertarian, you are well on the way ;-)

    When I read your post, I thought of a conversation I had last year with a nice lady who works in the local school. She told me that she would be extremely reluctant to work in the private sector, such was the strength of her commitment to the public sector (and hence, it seems, to the state). She clearly thought that the private sector was, in some way, morally inferior to the public sector. I was absolutely dumbfounded. I knew that I didn't exactly see eye to eye with her on everything, but she is an intelligent woman. Her eyes, however, are clearly not open.

    On a more important note, I hope that patently junior does come through the surgical procedures and makes a good recovery.

    (p.s. I think I managed to send my email to you correctly. I trust that you got it.)

  5. Firstly, I do hope that Patently Junior is doing well now that he’s reached a proper, if tatty, hospital. My experience of the NHS is that when sufficiently provoked they can and do deliver. Frankly the sort of BS I’m engaging in here is irrelevant in the face of real life issues - perhaps it will serve as a pleasant diversion.

    “My work involves talking to inventors, understanding their idea, then persuading the Patent Office of the novelty of the idea until they grant a patent for it”.

    I assumed so. It is this aspect of that seems to me to be inherently pernicious, rather than the other (defending clients from patent infringement claims).

    “The State's involvement in this is to provide a Patent Office with staff, and to provide a Court system. Both of these are, I think, core functions of a minimal State.”

    I do not. I’ll put aside for now my issue with the provision of courts by the state at all – for that is a “How many Rothbard clones can dance on the head of market anarchy pin”.

    The granting of patent’s by the state represent an extension of state power or intervention into markets which has a wholly pernicious influence on human progress. Taking part in this activity and let alone acting to facilitate it seems to be an odd activity for someone with anti-state leanings. I can only assume that you are not aware of the nature and impact of patents specifically and IP in general as a anti-market drag on human progress?

    I’m aware that I’m simply asserting that patents are bad here but rather than drone on in your comments I’d like to refer you to this article which describes how the early development of the steam engine was hindered by patents and the consequences of their expiration:

    steam engine

    And ask you to generalise from that.

    I’m also aware of the madness of a trying to convince a patent lawyer that all patents are a “bad thing ™”.

  6. Yes, if you're going to try to convince me that patents are a bad thing, you're not going to make progress.

    There are individual instances where patents have been a hindrance. However, their effect as a whole has been pretty conclusively shown to be beneficial. It is a long and complex debate that I'm not going to get into!

    Suffice to say that my experience has been that intellectual property law is one of the few ways in which a small upstart can challenge the power of established firms. For those established firms, the paranoia that this might happen to them is a powerful driver to innovate - and protect that innovation.

    After nearly 20 years seeing the IP profession at first hand, I'm (a) pretty content that it works and (b) pretty content that it fits with my small-state ideals.

  7. Yes, I can see someone with experience of that kind with the state would come out disliking it.

    By the same token though, perhaps you can understand why someone who has been supported financially in times of juvenile hardship, had obscure but vital surgery performed during a time when the family was economically crippled and generally endured vast amounts of suffering from a "Rational, autonomous actor", while the state has served the function of picking up the pieces quite admirably might be rather more favourable towards the institution?

  8. Yes, I can well understand that. As I said in the OP, it is my point of view that is prima facie odd and needs investigation.

    Of course, anyone who is the beneficiary of largesse paid for by others will think their benefactor is a good and kind institution. That doesn't prove that it is, though; nor does it prove that it was the best way to help them.