Tuesday, 19 April 2016
Give a man a fish, they say, and he’ll eat today. Teach a man to fish, they reckon, and he’ll feed his family forever. But what if the man you gave a fish to swapped it for a starving man’s bicycle, pedalled into town and got a job? Or the man you taught to fish fell into the river and drowned? The world of fables is full of one-dimensional tales of aspirations fulfilled by hard work and sloth punished by failure. But the real world is far more likely to show you stories of unintended consequences.
When Margaret Thatcher’s government extended the right-to-buy scheme the intention was said to be to create a ‘property-owning democracy’ and thousands of old Labour supporters became capitalists overnight. They snapped up the chance to do something few of the labouring classes had been able to do before – to one day be potentially liable for inheritance tax by having something to pass on to their children, just like the toffs to whom they used to doff their caps. (Property is theft, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote in 1843, but that’s easy to say when you have no hope of acquiring it.)
Did anybody expect it to end up enabling the now disdained buy-to-let market? Local authorities failed to invest in new social housing. Feckless or plain naïve new owners re-mortgaged themselves back into penury and home ownership became not a cherished British norm but a business, much of it in foreign hands. I’ve quoted William Goldman before and I do it again here because it’s truer than almost anything else you will hear in life: In Hollywood, he states, “Nobody knows anything... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”
Plenty of others have challenged Osbornes, not so much ‘educated’ as ‘deliberately misleading’ vision of a post-EU future for Britain. His principal deceit is to make forecast increases in national and individual wealth look like losses by comparing our expected growth on the outside with a guess at our possible growth on the inside. By a selective use and fundamental distortion of the guessed figures he portrays future wealth as future poverty. Please read this article by Fraser Nelson to see how.
But here’s the big problem, even if he did turn out to be right it would simply not be provable. Economists like climatologists, have a brilliant track record in explaining events in hindsight; their predictions, however, have turned out to be pure guesswork on every occasion. “Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.” Remember, this is the same continued administration – Blair and his heirs – which failed to predict and then recover from the 2008 crash; the same elites who keep on telling us immigration can only ever be good, even as Trevor Phillips, is belatedly realising just how wrong he was.
"But first, all passengers will vote on whether we step ashore,
or continue our luxury cruise."
Whatever happens after the referendum, life will continue. But it doesn’t matter how many times the Osbornes say ‘trust me, this is the truth’ it doesn’t make it actually true. What is likely, however, is that shackled to the oars of the EU galley we are going down with that ship when it sinks under the unnatural weight of its own ambition to end European nation states by creating another nation state called Europe. Whereas, on the outside, we may just have a chance to swim away from the wreckage. Nobody knows the future; nobody. But I’m hanging around by the life rafts just in case.