Constituency surgeries and the need for general rules

Article at Mises.orgWhen I hold a constituency surgery, someone will usually ask me to set aside rules which are producing outcomes that cause them real problems. Thankfully, I can’t do it and I would not want to despite my desire to help.

In travelling as a politician, particularly to Pakistan and Equatorial Guinea, I have observed that those places with the worst levels of poverty and injustice lack two strong, functioning institutions of which the UK is rightly proud: Parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. We can get rid of politicians and governments peacefully at the ballot box. The course of our lives is not determined by our personal relationships with those in authority but, on the whole, by fixed rules known well in advance.

This is the rule of law.

One of my concerns today is that the vast scale of the regulatory welfare state is necessarily undermining the rule of law. I spoke about it during the Finance Bill Committee 2013 and I wrote about the EU’s stupidity over chemicals regulation which threatened a local business and the NHS, amongst other things.

Today, the state tries to bring about particular outcomes, as if justice were served by some static snapshot of the lives of tens of millions of people. It’s an attempt based on a fallacy. Life in society is a process: we participate every day in a rich, dynamic tapestry of relationships which are determined by people’s actions. Justice is served when those actions are subject to inflexible general rules which apply equally to all.

The great British philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith wrote at length about it. There’s a summary over at Civilisation depends upon widespread voluntary obedience to general rules of conduct and therefore we ought not to allow government, politicians or officials to breach this principle in any particular case.

I always seek to help people who come to see me in a just cause – “indiscriminately” as one local Labour politician put it – but that is why I do so by encouraging officials to ensure that the rules have been properly applied, not by seeking to have them set them aside.

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