Friday, 24 November 2017

Money for nothing

The budget always brings out the worst in people. What’s in it for me, they ask, or, quite frequently, what’s in it for the poor and downtrodden, for the halt and lame, for the children? And behind all of this confusion of greed and envy, virtue-signalling demands for playing fields to be levelled, successful enterprise to be punished and equality to be magically brought about, is a basic incomprehension about the whole purpose of the budget. The budget is not about you, or me. It is about the economy as a whole and how the government is going to pretend to not be shitting themselves.

Nor is the budget a recipe for a bright new future because the budget, as always, is how to make the government’s annual national income of twenty pounds stretch to cover the demands to spend ‘twenty pounds ought and six’. Result, as Mr Micawber famously declared, misery. And while people bang on about the nebulous notion of ‘fairness’ they are quite unheeding of the fact that one man’s idea of fairness is another man’s example of greed. I worry about the fragile state of the western world today in which everything is about how much we think we need and so little is about how we earn it.

In the book ‘Mistakes were made (but not by me)’ the authors discuss the way we all believe the blame lies elsewhere. It seems to be an innate human trait to demand that others rectify the perceived wrongs and that we are blameless and pure of heart. And the perception of fairness may be much to blame. See? It’s not my fault; it’s fairness that’s wrong. And maybe, actually, it is. Here cometh the first lesson; no matter what your definition of fairness, the world is not fair, unless you are an economic absolutist in which case everything is fair.

Is it fair that a fictional nurse ‘had to’ use a foodbank? Well, yes... and no. It may be a shame that she fell on hard times, but is it not wonderful that charity still exists? Did she starve? No. Did she dine on the finest of fare? No, but does she deserve to? Does anybody? What is a fair wage? And having established such a thing would it be fair that somebody who is the very best in a field where talent is scarce should be paid more than somebody whose job could be done by an unskilled child willing to work for pocket money?

These are the questions that are never addressed when demands for a ‘living wage’ and price controls and tax cuts for me and tax hikes for ‘them others’ are paraded in front of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Last night on The Twitter an interlocutor tried to simultaneously convince me that, A) He understood how basic supply/demand economics functions, and that, B) Employers had a duty to pay ‘fair’ wages. It’s always the fault of the other guy isn’t it? What, I asked, if paying higher wages made the business unviable?

The response was an unthinking suggestion that businesses ought to be founded on a detailed analysis of what was a fair wage, then work backwards to arrive at a business model, presumably to then seek funding. It completely ignored the reality that we are all – except for those tiny minorities with certain psychopathies – social animals and the notion of ripping off customers and exploiting workers is absent from how we want to function. Most business owners would happily pay the best wages and sell the best quality at the lowest price. If only reality would let them.

Look at them Yo-yos...

So, when John mad-dog McDonnell and his notional master, Mr Micawbyn say they will raise wages, freeze prices, borrow at minus interests rates to drive investment in wondrous new infrastructure projects to make us all rich beyond the dreams of creosote[sic], just remember the wise words of their literary predecessor: “Annual income one pound, annual expenditure three-hundred trillion pounds, result; Venezuela.”

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