Having spent the last few days helping my brother and sister-in-law look after their first child, I’ve marvelled at several new experiences. An example, occurred at the new mothers group in Midsomer Norton, where I had the fortune to be the sole gentleman amongst more than twenty mums and babies. A forum to share experience, offer support, and put 50p in a tin can for some coffee and chocolate digestives. I glanced across the hall, trying not to mistakenly eye a boob, or view a nappy change, and considered the social implications of our meeting.
One of the best arguments against idealistic socialists, and indeed naïve libertarians, is the vacuous notion of a desired utopia. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt from Coase, has been that instead of comparing reality to a hypothetical alternative, we must think firmly in the real.
That being said, it is right to assess the direction we’re heading, and decide whether we wish to proceed. Choosing the right path involves detachment, and supposition. Therefore, the furthest I’m willing to go toward a utopian ideal, is the following quote from FA Hayek:
"we should regard as the most desirable order of society one which we would choose if we knew that our initial position in it would be decided purely by chance"
Of course the circumstance of your birth is entirely decided by chance, and to think beyond this delves into philosophy and genetics beyond our present depths. However once born, people tend to forget this: the winners seek to retain their privilege, and the losers face constraints to their ability to communicate.
Childbirth is perhaps the greatest leveller, and with a national health service there’s no escaping society. The village hall of this rural town near Bath contained a thorough cross section of society, and it was interesting to see how within a few minutes ‘groups’ had formed: the 20 something young professionals, the ‘older’ mums, the “too posh to push” set, the chavs etc….
And acutely conscious of the fact that I was the only man, with tits flying out everywhere, I thought of dear old Friedrich Hayek. Surely, the optimal society would be the one where we’re most willing to put names into a hat, and each take a different child home. Alternatively, the one where such a deal would be the least horrendous.
That is my barometer for social policy.