Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Baby P and the limits of the State

So, the professionals involved in the Baby P case have been suspended, no doubt pending a final sacking later. It is pretty much over for this case, barring the sniping about some of those suspended receiving full pay and that indignant howl of rage that will be heard across the UK when the killers of Baby P are freed in a few years time.

As the dust settles and the initial feelings of visceral horror and despair subside, it is useful to look at what this case actually tells us about our beliefs. On the one hand, it confirms that state intervention is not the answer to every problem. Baby P was seen numerous times by various state representatives, but no real attempt was made to save the child. As the BBC reports:

“Baby P died aged 17 months although he was on the child protection register and was seen by professionals 60 times.”
State intervention in this case did not work. The money spent on the specialists employed in by the state appears to have been wasted. It is difficult to dispute those facts. On face value, a Libertarian such as myself could use this example as resounding proof that state intervention does not always work.

Yet, it is also difficult to make the case for not having state intervention in this tragedy. Having limited or no state employees involved in this case would not have saved Baby P – in fact, it would have made him just as likely to meet his sad end as having 60 encounters with the professionals. I believe that the state is only the answer to a limited number of scenarios and cases. Yet not having such an all-invasive state also will not stop bad things from happening. The Libertarian ideology can’t offer any real solutions to this one.

Which is part of the reason why being Libertarian makes so much sense to me. Those who pursue a statist agenda would argue that state intervention – if done correctly – should be able to stop this sort of thing. But it doesn’t. And on some levels the council in the Baby P case followed the rulebook to the letter. Socialism, and to some extent social conservatism, all argue that human nature is basically perfectible – or at least possible to control. That if the state created the right environment then such things would just not happen. Yet the state does intervene, and babies still die.

My view of human nature is ambivalent. I believe humans are capable of great good and great creativity – and I wish more people would be able to realise it. Yet I also know that people are capable of inflicting misery and being evil. And I know that some people will always find a way to overcome the restrictions of the state – and in some cases use the state – to inflict misery and pursue their evil agendas. It doesn’t matter what the state tries to do; there will be those who still commit crimes and hurt others.

The state intervened repeatedly in the Baby P case, and the child still died. The perpetrators of the crime managed to find (incredibly crude) ways of hiding what was going on. And there is no guarantee that further state intervention could have saved the child either, unless we go down the ludicrous route of taking children from their parents at the first possible sign of any abuse – something that could be just as damaging to many children as the apparent abuse.

In the final analysis it comes down to this: the state was unable to stop those adults from being unbearably cruel to that child. Those ideologies that shriek about “doing something” and “preventing it happening again” are being naïve about human nature. People will go on doing evil and cruel things to each – this is as much a part of human nature as generosity and love. The Libertarian ideology, for me, accepts that, and realises that state intervention is never going to change this simple truth.

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At 2:18 pm , Blogger Obnoxio The Clown said...

You'll never stop Baby P's from happening. By incentivising unproductive behaviour and childbirth as an option, you're simply encouraging the problem. By pretending that the state has all the answers, you stay the hand people who might otherwise have taken their own actions.

Far better we save the money that we urinate in the public convenience of "social justice" and encourage people to have kids that they can support and want to support.

At 4:25 pm , Blogger AloneMan said...

Terrific. common sense at last. I heard Beverley Hughes (children's minister) on the radio this morning, saying that what was needed was fine tunng between having clearly defined procedures on the one hand and leaving it to care workers' professional judgement on the other. Tosh. This sort of thing, however terrible, will always happen. The best we can do is leave no one in any doubt that those that do it face the full force of the law.


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