Saturday, 24 October 2015
What a State
Discussions are ongoing to determine what size the state should be. Well it shouldn’t be so big you can see it from the moon, that’s for sure. Both sides are trotting out absurd statistics which, taken at face value, weave whatever thread you wish into the national tapestry. But the whole thing is so complicated that neither side knows what the effect of any policy will be. The Poll Tax, for instance, was an eminently sensible idea of spreading the load of raising local revenues by asking all of earning age to chip in but the opposition managed to turn it into a fictional monster so devilish it turned even many of her supporters against the best Prime Minister most of us have ever had.
So now, people’s choice of postcode is affected at least partly by the Council Tax band of their potential home. Manipulating wages and rents and prices rarely produces the ideal outcomes such measures seek – rent controls reduce availability of private rented housing and arbitrary wage inflation can put more people out of work. Generous benefits disadvantage those who aren’t entitled. Comprehensive education drives down academic standards. When governments seek to influence outcomes there is the costly way of using financial incentives or the more affordable way of imposing penalties. But is it, truly, the job of government to decide how citizens actually think?
Beyond defence and education, health and infrastructure; beyond the almost unanimously obvious functions of state, it all gets much more contentious and ideological. But one thing does seem certain; the greater the amount of central planning the harder it is to distinguish fact from supposition. And the harder it is even for card-carrying left or rightists to assert that their way is proven to be better. If you earn a wage you can live on and feel you are entirely responsible for your own decisions, the less you want government to come anywhere near you, but at the bottom end of the scale you may rely on government for more than you even realise. If you are independent you can vote the way you believe but if you are dependent would you risk voting to cut off your support?
Nobody knows what the future will bring. After WWII nobody expected the world to see such turmoil and tension as there is in Europe right now. Post the cold war nobody thought they would see a resurgent, military Russia. But some things do seem certain: It is more difficult to take something away once you have started to give it; tax credits won’t be given up easily. And the government solution to the problems caused by government are rarely ‘less government’. The chances of Cameron reforming the state is about as likely as that of reforming the EU and the EU is wedded to the concept of ever greater government, ever closer central control.
Back off, Brussels!
And that means yet more complication, with its commensurate costs and inability to disentangle incentive from bribe, good outcomes from bad, or fact from fiction. Our membership of this lumbering and expensive-to-feed beast becomes more irrevocable by the year. We can’t even make our own decisions who to pay benefits to. Cameron’s empty promises to roll back the heavy hand of Brussels makes him the King Cnut (spell it how you like) of the modern day.