The Two Faces Of The Politics Of Failure
by Ian R Thorpe
What a mess the modern way of doing politics based on a politically correct consensus and social engineering has produced.
6 April 2012
An old and entirely meaningless aphorism holds that there are two sides to every story. How did this witless and fallacious observation become so widely regarded as a benchmark for fair-mindedness and wisdom? There are two sides to every set of ribs, there are two sides to every river. But stories or political and social debates? There are more facets that a diamond. The idea that every narrative has two versions, with the truth to be found between them, is absurd.
We find vacuous non-logic of this type is applied in every corner of society. In the law courts, the scales of justice suggest that two opposing sides can be presented and weighed up but true justice is seldom that simple. There is an ongoing "war" between religion and science with each side claiming it has the answers to unanswerable questions. Unfortunately by stopping at two sides the protagonists miss out on what the other 358 angles of perspective can reveal.
Nowhere, however, is the "two sides" dogma more ridiculously irrelevant than in politics. The left of the house battles with the right of the house, in order to achieve … what? The first-past-the-post electoral system exists to defend and preserve the "strong" adversarial model. Currently, that model looks to be guaranteeing just one thing: mutually assured destruction.
The right promotes the free-market state, allegedly. The left promotes the welfare state, allegedly. Each side insists that the one is sabotaged by the other. The truth is that the two are locked like stags in a death struggle that neither can win without guaranteeing its own destruction. The so - called centre-ground, occupied by increasingly marginalised fringe parties, involves standing in a dreary, grey area shouting muttering about some imaginary third way.
Even more stupid is the intellectually barren conclusion that flows from this binary nonsense. If one side can be proved wrong, then it follows that the other side must be correct. So plan A, which predicted that cuts in public spending (Monetarism) would deliver real-economy growth, is wrong. Therefore, we must adopt plan B, from the two-letter alphabet, which predicts that increases in public spending will deliver real-economy growth. This is called Keynesianism. (The man himself has been turning in his grave for decades at this misunderstanding of his economic theory.)
John Maynard Keynes, disaffected taxpayers are often reminded, suggested that in a recession it was better to pay a man to dig holes and fill them in again than it was to leave him standing idle. But a weird thing happens, if you respond with: "Brilliant! Let's call that … Workfare!" All the "Keynesians" run screaming for the hills. Only the free-marketers are left standing there, saying: "Let's do this!" For obvious reasons.
In truth, if the public spending fanatics were remotely Keynesian, there would be money set aside from the boom to pay people to dig holes and fill them in during the bust. Instead, whenever a social democrat party get their hands on power (with the exception of Germany's Social Democrats) there is an unrestrained spendfest with obscene amounts of money being pent on vanity projects and on buying the votes of minorities. During the debt fuelled booms of the 1990s and the first decade of this century a great deal of money was spent on paying people to stand idle. Why? Because neither the free market, nor the managerial state, was minded, for their interlocking reasons, to pay people enough money to make digging holes, even those holes that urgently needed to be dug, worth their personal economic while.
It's at this point in proceedings, whether the debate is over a few beers down the pub, or during a political leader's speech on how we need to get the economy moving, that someone will parrot, with solemn but unwarranted certainty, that a national economy is not like a household economy.
That ought to be true. But unfortunately, the government has been managing its finances in the manner of a spendthrift housewife with a gambling addicted, drunkard husband for decades. The family silver was sold off long ago, and then the gold. The children were sold into mortgage slavery and the house mortgaged beyond sanity to finance the consumerist lifestyle. The government gets its income, spends it all, and maxes out its bond-market credit card. Economic policy is not aimed at reducing the deficit but at staving off the need to pawn the car in order to raise a pay-day loan to bridge the current month's deficit. Any infrastructural investment, any real-economy job creation that would differentiate the nation's treasury from a "household economy", it leaves to the private sector.
The Prime Minister from 1957 to 63, Harold Macmillan made a typically elitist metaphor when he pointed out that even though they'd "never had it so good", a lot of people weren't disciplined about polishing the silver (looking after their money) when they had it. Instead they believed the promises of the Labour Party who told them they could have it even better under socialism.
Back in the days when the government's holdings included nationaised utility companies, electricity, domestic and industrial gas, water, telephones, railways and strategiclly important industries, a theoretically profit making infrastructure, these holdings neither made profits nor satisfied customers. In 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, Britain was in a hole over its head already and the unions were still digging .
Many people say Margaret Thatcher saved the country but in reality she just slapped a coat of paint over the corrosion and decay. Blair and Brown claimed they had turned the country round and abolished the cycle of boom and bust, giving the impression that they were investing in infrastructure. "Look at all the hospitals we've built! Look at all the schools!" they shouted when they were actually bribing the private sector to do it, via private finance initiatives. They were borrowing from the future to pay for the present Why? Because, again, neither the public nor private sector was willing to pay people to dig holes, build walls, bash metal or stitch shirts. It was easier to make money by moving figures around in a spreadsheet. In an ugly compromise aimed as masking what dire straits our employment market was truly in, the private sector paid peanuts and the government threw in a few tax credits, leaving people doubly dependent – on bosses who didn't value them, and a state that would that do nothing to change that for fear of pissing off their party's megarich political donors.
A few scams were pulled to make the electorate think something was being done. A minimum wage was introduced but all that did was give employers an excuse for not paying a fair rate for the job. "We're paying minimum wage," they protested. But minimum wage is an hourly rate and there was an explosion in the number of jobs being reclassified from full time to part time. The person doing the job was expected to put in exactly the same amount of work of course, but in 28 hours rather than 35. The number of university places increased massively with the result that 150,000 young people a year were kept out of the job market for three years. After that of course companies offering employment for burger flippers or shelf stackers could have their pick of media studies or art and design graduates.
The people who were interviewed in the LSE/Guardian Reading the Riots project that followed the riots of August 2011 were largely the product of that joint project between an irresponsible private sector, and an equally irresponsible government. Fairly inchoately, the rioters resent both. An often voiced complaint concerns the withdrawal of educational maintenance allowance (paying the dole to young people to persuade them to stay in full time education). Education itself remains free until people are 18. But this opportunity is often squandered or abused, people enroll in college courses in rock music, drama and dance or graphic design . "Don't blame our parents," the rioters said.. "Blame society." Can we blame society for the amazing statistic that "a third of children don't own a book". Well possibly, maybe that is down to the attitude I encountered when my kids, now in their thirties, were at school. My wife and I felt we had an important role in developing their cultural awareness, we bought them books, took them to the theatre, visited historical sites with interesting stories and talked to them about culture, history, art and music.
On one occasion my daughter care home clearly upset, having been given a bad mark and a detention for a project she though she had done well. She had failed because she had done too well. I had helped her but only to the extent of steering her towards sources of information on aspects of the topic her course notes overlooked. The curt note she brought home said that she had failed because her work included information the school did not teach and would we (her parents) desist from interfering in her education.
In my meeting with the school head, his assumptions of intellectual superiority were demolished in seconds but even so it was hard to shift him from the position that his pupils were only allowed to know what the national curriculum permitted. To me that is not education but indoctrination. The though he would be able to intimidate me by adopting a condescending attitude. I, who had been consulting at board level for multi national businesses was not going to be talked down to by some middle ranking public servant, and I made that quite clear.
Small wonder then that the rioters were disillusioned with everything. Pesky, nosy social workers and doctors recommending five portions a day of fruit and veg, preaching about the evils of tobacco and alcohol or the dangers of eating red meat were resented as much as preachy, patronising politicians and that strange beast called society.
It has been said that the looters were like bankers in the way they plundered opportunistically. This is offered as if it is a justification for their criminal behaviour. Even describing their rampage of arson and theft as crime has seen people branded racist. But the prevailing mentality displayed by the interviewees (of European, Asian and African or African Caribbean extraction) is like that of the bankers in another respect as well. For a long time now, they have focused on what they can get out, rather than what they can put in. Again, all this is parcelled up by the left in a binary narrative. "I'm depraved because I'm deprived," as Stephen Sondheim put it in his lyrics for West Side Story in 1957. Sondheim poked fun at the left's position.
Most public money is spent on maintaining a dysfunctional status quo. Yet, often, the welfare state is taken for granted, or treated with contempt, by its recipients as well as its indirect recipients (those who employ a healthy, educated, law-abiding workforce but resent paying the taxes that provide it). The left says not enough money is spent by the state. The right says, too much. The ghastly result of these two adversarial stories? A vicious cycle of failure, with each side certain that the other is the problem. In truth, each fantastic narrative of extremity feeds the problems of, and provides the excuses for, the other. It's a repugnant, co-dependent relationship; angry, destructive, controlling and self-perpetuating. Damn them all with their bipolar idealism. In fact the root cause of the problem is the politically correct consensus that reaches across the whole political spectrum, the fixation on multiculturalism and "diversity" that has eroded traditional values and destroyed the bonds that bind communities together.
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