There’s another subject that Roger and I disagree about profoundly. He trusts the state more than I do. Whenever he sees anything not going the way he’d like it to go, he calls for state action to “put it right.” This applies to big things, such as instances of what he calls “market failure,” and it applies to little things such as people consuming foods or drinks he disapproves of. In both cases he wants the state to stop it.
There are undoubtedly cases of market failure. Left to themselves, business people would probably, like many of us, go for the easy way out, protecting their market share by monopolies or cartels, rather than by trying to keep their quality up and their prices keen. Certainly we need laws to stop them doing this. Where I part company with Roger is that he seems to think of politicians and civil servants as dispassionate guardians of the public good. I see them as being rather like other people in pursuing their own advantage where they can. Politicians want to be re-elected, and bureaucrats want to be promoted. Both will, at times, act in their own interests, just as others do, even in some cases where this is against the public good.
When Roger talks of “society,” he doesn’t use it to refer to communities working together for common purposes, he uses it to mean the state, the political body that has monopoly control of the laws and of the powers to enforce them. The problem is that when those powers are concentrated, people try to use them to impose their agenda on others. Because some people drink unwisely, Roger supports minimum alcohol pricing. Because some people become obese, Roger wants ‘fat taxes’ on sugars and fats. In these cases he claims to be acting in people’s best interests, but when he votes to ban fox-hunting, it’s simply that he doesn’t want them doing it.
Roger is happy to give the state more power, confident it will be used appropriately, whereas I rather suspect that whenever the state gains extra powers, it will use them for whatever purpose it wants. Surveillance powers granted to thwart terrorists will probably end up being used to prosecute people for not sorting their garbage into the right bins. In short, Roger sees the state as a means of making people live as he thinks they should, whereas I see it as a source of power waiting to be abused by anyone who can grab control of its levers.