Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What exactly is liberty?

Dick Puddlecote has another go at Prohibition (the American experience of which is widely misunderstood), and (being naturally contrarian myself) I have a geat deal of sympathy for his opposition to officialdom.

But we can easily be misled into thinking there are only two positions to take: bans, or complete lack of restriction. I think lovers of freedom need to develop a more nuanced stance. As I comment there:

It's not the making available that harmful, it's the pushing. Look how licensing laws have been progressively relaxed since the 50s, mostly for the benefit of brewers and the supermarket lobby.

And the advertising - remember the 1989 Woodpecker cider ad showing a couple of woodpeckers seated on the ground, cans in hand, with the slogan"Get out of your tree with Woodpecker Cider"? There's a reference to it in this book (p 368 in Google Books - even there the text is unavailable online) but it seems impossible to retrieve the image - it's like getting hold of the Sun's "Gotcha!" Belgrano front page.

The liberty of the individual is distinct from the liberty of powerful commercial enterprises to exploit our weaknesses, and in this context I do not consider businesses to be persons with the right to liberty.

I think libertarians need to consider how they may inadvertently be acting as unpaid agents for the more questionable sectors of corporate capitalism; and to what extent liberty is better exercised in controlling an appetite rather than giving way to it.


Weekend Yachtsman said...

Up to a point.

When I was a student, the pubs opened at 5pm and closed at 10pm, except on Sundays when they didn't open at all.

And nobody, but nobody would sell you a pint if it was a "public holiday" in the town.

I don't accept that relaxing this sort of nonsense was a concession to commercial greed.

Sackerson said...

I remember trying to get a drink in Harlech on a Sunday in the 70s. You had to pretend to be a resident of the hotel (which gladly connived at this pretence).

And we only had to do that because the bus driver resolutely refused to sell us a ticket to get to South Wales, even though he was driving there that day.

It's not the licensing hours per se that raises the eyebrow, though the "continental hours" thing seemed to me, immediately at the time, an obvious ploy for political popularity; it's the steady shift towards the supermarkets and all sorts of other outlets. The pubs and off-licenses haven't benefited, much the reverse in fact.

The need for businesses to grow forever to increase dividends forever, means that they have an agenda for ever-increasing consumption. The McLibel case revealed how McD's catgorised its customers and sought to "develop" them, the best being the "Super Heavy User". The drinks industry, pace its hypocritical exhortations to "responsible" drinking, clearly works on the same lines.

More honest would be to take the approach of the old landlord at the Little Lark in Studley (Warks.) who had a sign on the wall saying, "Please drink harder and faster, thank you." Still not quite so extreme as "Drink Canada Dry", I suppose.