Sunday, 17 November 2019
Free as a bird
The party manifestos which have been falling over each other to get airtime are, in the main, packs of unsubstantiated lies. Actually, scrub that; they are composed entirely of unsubstantiated lies. The best that can be said of most manifesto pledges is that they are fanciful and naïve wishful thinking and should be regarded in the light of the referendum, which asked if we wanted to remain in the EU or leave the EU without making it clear that only one choice would ever be acceptable to Parliament.
Political parties, for all their bluster, hate elections because they must knowingly trot out bigger and steamier piles of bullshit than their opponents as the truth is just not sexy enough. It is not sufficient to base claims on your track record in government because if you were a government of fiscal probity everybody hates you for not dishing out enough free stuff; and if you were a government of giveaways everybody hates you because you gave it all to the wrong people.
But who doesn’t like the promise of a better, cheaper tomorrow, even if you have a deep suspicion that tomorrow will never arrive? Labour’s free fibre broadband and internet offer may well be an elephant trap for the Tories – top that, Boris! – but it portends both horror and delight, depending on whether you have been watching the world for the last few decades or not. State-run access to everybody’s online interactions, round the clock, is a totalitarian administration’s wet dream, but, you know, free, right?
If that doesn’t conjure up dystopian visions of 1984 and every post-apocalyptic movie spawned since the dawn of cinema then look around at the world today. China and North Korea are great examples to study. But I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn’s magic free internet will be run on entirely kinder, gentler lines. For sure. Of course. No doubt. But wait, there’s more: Aaron Bastani yesterday opined that should Labour get into government and see a second term they also have ambitions for a publicly owned digital payments system. What could possibly go wrong there?
Then today we get free dentistry. I mean, what’s not to like? For what it’s worth I do believe the state has a role to play in protecting the public from the worst excesses of unrestrained capitalism, but we can’t just lurch from one extreme to the other. Everything has a price; everything has to be paid for somehow and we all know that the burden of payment falls hardest on those with the least. For those at the top it’s only money, but when you have no money the price is freedom. Every time.
People who are considering voting for ‘free stuff’ need to consider the value of choice. The Corbyn/McDonnell/Marx axis is offering a world where you can have any colour you like, as long as it is black. Where the state provides, shortages follow. So, for all their idle chatter about shoring up the rotting hulk of the NHS, waiting times would get longer, medicines would become scarcer and the bed count would shrink, as sure as night follows day. If the government was the only baker, every day we would run out of bread; not from any malign intent but through an ideological inability to allow independent enterprise to pick up the slack.
It's all free, I tell you!
Likewise, the apparent gift of free access to the all the world’s information will inevitably become free access to some information; information which is deemed suitable and information which does not threaten the government. ‘Approved information’. Because free is not the same as freedom. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: You can have it all or you can have it for free, but you can’t have it all for free.