A LOT OF BILE is being expended on the Labour Party manifesto; much of it on its supposed costs. There is no doubt that it does offer a great deal of manna from somewhere, and thank goodness our politicians have, in general, cottoned on to the idea that spending promises are not free lunches.
But any debate about how much any state funded programme costs is headed for the quick sands of puerility. No-one knows how much tomorrow’s tax-funded programmes will cost, and the whole point of being in government is that you can move tax revenues around to policy and political advantage.
Many a leftist commentator has snarled that economies are not like households and they have found a host of Keynesian reasons to invent a reality in which state spending can cure a shortfall in growth, dissolve austerity, improve health and social care, reduce poverty and generally create paradise and justice. There really is not much point in trying to convince them of the unintended outcomes of a government spending beyond its means. For them deficits and debt are tools for gain, not the road to perdition.
A better analogy for the actions of government is that it is like a herd of carnivorous dinosaurs with a preference for warm meat; and surviving on what food can be found through wanton destruction of other foraging animals and their foodstocks. As in nature, where over-population kills off ecological balance, so in economy, where over-taxing destroys tomorrow’s wealth.
To extend the analogy, what drives these hungry carnivores? To a large measure, the answer is instinct. They have no concern for the freedom of others; their intention is only to enhance their own advancement, with an intense focus on relations with other beasts similar to them within their sphere of influence. Reason and logic take up little space in their world view; they are too busy manipulating their own survival.
This is the reality behind left-wing politics. Its manipulations are self-serving in the extreme, while couched in the language of helping others. Its announcements are optimistic, while its perspective is hugely pessimistic; there are always others at fault, and those others have evil selfish intent. The staring evil eye of the carnivore mind has huge disdain for the dull stare of the meekly munching herbivore of the bourgeoisie.
It is in this light that the Labour Party manifesto has to be seen. It’s essentially a mindless, greedy, self-serving claim on powers to define the lives of others.
For objective and rational liberals, the idea that anyone should even consider nationalisation of rail or energy to be a sensible economic policy is simply mind-boggling. Yet, here are some well-educated people suggesting it.
The railways are a sink-hole of subsidisation; support required for a two hundred-year-old technology designed to transport coal and slate, rock and sand. Their capacity to carry people in comfort is fatally compromised by their inability to operate with any density; their high mass demands complex engineering to allow speeds beyond 40mph, with rigorous safety systems and high staffing levels to operate and maintain the permanent way. State ownership, which is still largely retained, has prevented the tracks being torn up, prevented pricing being applied sensibly, and prevented innovation through competition. Worst of all, rail subsidies benefit the wealthy rather than the poor. Scotland is lucky not to have too many railways.
The energy industry is actually doing quite well in changing times. Locked out of its cheapest sources of power – coal and nuclear – by the Green religion, it has adapted to gas and renewables, surviving through a period in which gas prices soared without vast increases in prices. In fact, energy producers have become a lot more efficient as organisations since the days of the Central Electricity Generating Board.
It is vitally important that consumers recognise that socialists are blind to the managerial aspects of nationalisation. Few recall that the capital maintenance spending of British Rail in the year it was broken up was zero. Yes, zero; there was no finance being spent on new rolling stock. The much lauded East Coast rail franchise, supposedly thriving under state control, did not order any new trains, or refurbish what it had; towards the end of its tenure it was becoming noticeably tattered, a throwback to the musty wheezing trains of yesteryear.
Few know also that when the CEGB was prepared for sale, Price Waterhouse, the privatisation consultants, found eighteen layers of management that could be discarded – well-paid middle managers reading each other’s memos. And by the way, those consultants are the highly paid people that the Labour Party want to tax into emigration; dedicated professionals who have done more to keep the bills and taxes of lower-earning consumers low than any politician. There was a reason that income tax was reduced from 33% to 20% through the nineteen eighties.
As for the NHS, into which Corbynites and Sturgeonites alike want to pour yet more of our money; taxpayers are right to express caution. During Gordon Brown’s tenure, a tidal wave on new money into the NHS led to a great deal of wage inflation but little additional productivity. The vast bureaucratic apparatus of the NHS is well able to absorb infinite public funds; and yet its IT infrastructure is still working on an operating system three generations old. Does it ever occur to the left that more money is not the answer to everything; that there might be something fundamentally wrong with the NHS as a single payer fully tax-funded institution? Of course not – that would be to admit failure, and lose their centralising control.
The carnivorous left always want to control their flock, herding us into their way of thinking; which is essentially that they eat us up without much thought. The Scottish Government, despite their apparent nicety, flounder into the swamp of over-zealous control again and again – usually without understanding why. The answer of course is that they forget how hungry their friends are. Offering more for health, more for social care, more paternity, maternity and holiday pay; and banning internships, zero hours contracts, windfall profits, seems perfectly sensible. It appears to support the less well-off and the security of those who cannot control their employers.
In reality, these arrangements have emerged to protect the productive work that low-paid people need in a world of extortionate payroll taxes. Labour market controls generate unemployment – fast – except for those who can control their terms, the trade unionists in high paying jobs in essential industries that have to keep producing output. The hunger of the fat-cat workers is legendary; and their claim to support other workers is as tempting as it is a falsehood; there would be nothing like a good dose of Corbynism to wreck the lives of millions of the less skilled. When politicians get into bed with carnivores in the name of “partnerships” we are into the world of beer and sandwiches in Downing Street – consumers beware, carnivores need their meat. They don’t like profits, but they don’t care about losses either.
There is an answer to this mad open savannah of carnivore policy politics; to concentrate on the rules of engagement. There is nothing wrong with creating a corral of like-minded animal spirits who want to try co-operative structures; who have title to the property right to exploit land, labour and capital as they wish; this is precisely what well managed successful companies do – they create comfort and security by joining in communal effort. And if socialists want to generate like-minded voluntary social co-operatives who is to stop them? What’s important is to curtail agglomerations, centralising power to gobble up others.
Competitive capitalism and the Rule of Law are the tools to achieve this, with property rights protected with great vigour, especially when the state attempts to take them over for their own carnivorous, and thoughtless, purposes.