A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Sunday, 14 May 2017

How Have My Political Views Changed Over Time?

I sometimes wonder if I'm too locked into my political ideology. I have been a libertarian of some sort basically as long as I've known what the word means, i.e. about seven years. However, in that time my views on various individual issues have changed; hopefully this means that the fear in my first sentence is not too accurate?

In any case, here is a set of notes I came up with when trying to work out how my views have changed. The four big driving forces between the changes have been:

-I became much less confident in the possibility of "moral truth", which (a) reduced my commitment to making everything fully consistent and (b) made me more sanguine about advancing political positions on aesthetic grounds. (This is quite possibly a negative development; that said, it made it easier to be honest about my real motivations for some policies, e.g. monarchism).

-aged 18, I was a committed Christian and so if I were to hold a belief about politics, either it had to be consistent with Biblical teachings or I had to twist my understanding of the Bible to fit my political leanings. (I remember being very upset when I read Exodus 3:22, which seemed like a blatant endorsement of theft). Between October 2013 and April 2014, I became convinced that Christianity is false.

-in Sixth Form and the first year of undergrad, I knew no other libertarians and the closest I could find to people who agreed with me were a couple of socially-liberal Tories; during the second-year of undergrad I got to know Sam Dumitriu, who eventually got me to start using Twitter, with the result that I quickly fell in with the #MCx crowd. We are all influenced by the people we talk to, partly because of honest intellectual influence but mostly because of a desire to fit in and look cool; hence my move to "neoliberalism" over "libertarianism".

-partly due to my loss of faith in deontological libertarian moral realism and partly due to people on Twitter - most obviously Sam Bowman and Ben Southwood - I became much more utilitarian. It's hard to date this exactly, but I particularly remember one afternoon of summer 2016 spent walking in County Kerry with my dad, when I concluded that either one took the Enlightenment seriously or one didn't' If one didn't, then what resulted was a tribalist, emotivist politics that was honest, if barbaric. If one took the Enlightenment seriously, then either one concluded that other people matter - in which case, why not go all the way to utilitarianism? - or only oneself matters, in which case ethical egoism results. Concepts like citizenship are attempts to maintain the visceral emotional appeal of pre-enlightenment politics in a post-Enlightenment context, but I think this attempt is ultimately dishonest. Emotional appeal ought to be abstracted as far as possible (which is not the same as removed!) from a political system based on reason. I've moved away from this somewhat since, but remain basically utilitarian.

With that overly long explanation out of the way, a list of fifteen ways in which my views have changed (still in note format but with some explanatory links added, I'm not going to tidy this up):

-used to consider anarchism to be the moral ideal towards which we should aim. Circa 2014 concluded that it was probably both viable and better than status quo, but minarchism to be preferred as a way of controlling negative externalities. Nowadays (since early 2017) suspect it may be unstable due to people's tribal instincts - though still would like to see it tried!

Given the supposition of a government:

1-used to advocate "liquid democracy". Now heavily opposed to anything approaching direct democracy, and would advocate for UK and other major liberal powers to be less democratic on the margin. Had a period of extreme scepticism of democracy due to Jason Brennan (circa early 2013-late 2016 or early 2017); now think it has important instrumental-expressive purposes in maintaining public order.

2-used to be uneasy about redistribution in principle, but would tolerate sufficientarianism. Now at peace with the principle of redistribution, though heavily concerned about *how* it is implemented. Partly due to Joseph Heath (ctrl-f "risk-pooling"), partly due to becoming more neoliberal/utilitarian, which is probably more due to the people I talk with than due to any particular argument. (Took a long time, but roughly late 2013-mid 2016)

3-used to be heavily opposed to military interventions. Now cautiously in favour, largely due to the influence of Mugwump. (still in flux)

4-used to be heavily concerned about tax rates. Still think they matter, but no longer consider them the highest priority. Always thought *how* we taxed matters, though have a more sophisticated understanding of taxation theory than I did back then. Used to advocate negative income tax; now prefer progressive consumption tax.

5-realised free trade is about much more than tariffs and quotas - free trade agreements serve a genuinely valuable purpose. Relatedly, was eurosceptic; switched to being pro-EU around late 2014, as a result of debate preceding the referendum became vastly more pro-EU. (Possibly also related to change in self-image due to living in Hungary for two years).

6-was unconcerned about fertility. Now consider it a top priority, mostly due to Nancy Folbre though partly due to combination of Parfit/Cowen on discounting the future with my own work opposing antinatalism. (early 2015-present)

7-used to assume that Austrian goldbuggery was sensible. (How embarrassing!) Have given up having strongly held views on monetary policy, though Scott Sumner is fairly persuasive. (change around early 2013 - mid 2015?)

8-as natural-rights libertarian, assumed there was a definite answer to whether or not intellectual property was valid, leaned towards not. Nowadays take a much more utilitarian view, thinking that in purely instrumental terms there should probably be some but less than we currently have.

9-was pro-open-borders. Now merely think we should have open borders for citizens of other liberal democracies, and higher but not unlimited immigration from less liberal countries. Didn't care about integration, seeing it as a service provided by host country to people who should be quite happy to reap the benefits of moving to a richer country; now see integration as an act of self-defence. (2016?)

10-thought we should tolerate more terrorism. Still think it's greatly overrated as a threat, but think that (a) preventing people from overreacting is intractable, and (b) costs of anti-terrorism much smaller than I thought back then.

11-struggled to find a reason to be monarchist while still being anarchist. Now I'm (a) less of a moral realist so happier to advocate political institutions on aesthetic grounds, (b) equipped with evidence that Habsburgs were good for Mitteleuropa.

12-was heavily opposed to existence of national debt. Now think morality of national debt dependent upon other institutions, in particular with how much we do to encourage fertility. (2015-early 2017, especially more recently with my work opposing anti-natalism: I came to think that we ought to subsidise procreation, but it seemed fair that the people benefitting by being born ought to bear the cost of subsidies)

13-felt reasonably comfortable with Conservative Party. Also thought UKIP were alright. Think Tories and Labour worse than they were back then, probably happier with Lib Dems than I was. (this probably more due to changes in the parties than changes in my own views, however)

14-thought strong governments (and consequently FPTP) were hugely important. Don't think I had any good reason for this belief. Now hold no strong opinions on this beyond "it depends". (Don't know when this changed, but probably not before 2011 AV+ referendum)

15-now advocate returning the Elgin Marbles. Felt awkward about this in much the same way as the monarchy insofar as I thought about it at all; this Ed West tweet convinced me that they ought, so long as Greece can look after them (which it admittedly might not be able to given the current economic situation), that they ought to be returned ASAP. (This is perhaps the only change in my views which happened in a single moment rather than over time).

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