Wednesday, 7 May 2014
Trade. It’s an honest word, implying as it does that something is exchanged for something else in a deal that is beneficial to both sides. I have something you want to possess, you have something that likewise I crave, let’s organise the handover and go on our way. For goods and direct services this is surely the only reasonable way of operating - you get what you want as long as you can pay for it. This is how human beings have interacted forever and a weighing up of relative values enters into all our decisions.
From the fundamentals of choosing a mate all the way through to building civilisations the deal is the thing. Even an underhand deal is still a form of trade, albeit one hinging on the employment of graft – ‘bribery and other corrupt practices used to secure illicit advantages or gains in politics or business’. Capitalism, say the socialists, is bad because vested interests will always hijack the markets for their own gain. Better let the state run everything, then we can set fair prices and level the playing field. But let the state take control and you remove everybody’s ability to trade in what is important to them as individuals. Collectivism is anti-trade, anti-enterprise.
But look again at the definition of graft; it includes politics because whether you are on the right or the left, corruption appears to be at the very heart of politics itself. Humans are made to trade and whether it’s politics or business, work or play, some are better at it than others. Few deals are completely balanced –it’s not what something is worth, it’s what you are prepared to pay for it. And successive governments have always been prepared to pay over the odds for peace and quiet rather than tackle the harder, less popular tasks:
You see it with the welfare state. Rather than educate and try to develop a workforce to match the skill demands it was deemed more cost effective in the short term to allow a dependant underclass to develop. But the reason programmes like Benefit Street have come about is that the price has risen too high for those who ultimately pay for it – everybody else. Those who are forced to pay in to the state, accept it – up to a point – as the price for a quiet life. But the riots of 2011 showed that some of the people who are rewarded to remain out of sight don’t always honour their part of the contract.
An Ed Miliband, big state economy is doomed to failure. As soon as you interfere too intrusively in commercial markets you swap the people who are skilled in trade – the consumers and the suppliers – for those who are merely skilled in cooking the books. Let politicians set prices and you lose the honest suppliers. If the demand is still there, the black market takes up the slack and both quality and tax revenues fall. In a socialist world the rewards no longer fall to those who are good at making things, but rather those who are good at playing the system. Graft, corruption, sleaze and genuine hardship go hand in hand with disadvantaging ‘those who can’.
In the lexicon of Labour ‘trade’ is a dirty thing. They talk of ‘fat cats’ and ‘millionaire bankers’ and while they still use the word ‘aspiration’ they denigrate the natural order of things whereby some will always rise higher than others. Under Labour it was never the workers that won, it was always those who feigned to bang the drum on their behalf. In his urge to drag us back to the nineteen-seventies Ed seems to forget that back then it was the ‘union barons’ who were the fat cats.