October 13th, 2011
|08:34 am - They told you what they were|
The Liam Fox scandal is an instantiation of a general observation I posted last November: 'If Greed is Good'.
What neo-classical and Austrian-school economics say is that if all people strive to maximise their own individual economic interests, the overall system will tend to improvement: famously rendered as 'Greed is Good'. I think we should consider what this means for the behaviour of politicians who believe these theories... if the theory is true, live by it. Do it. So, rationally and indeed by their own lights ethically, they must concentrate on maximising the income of themselves and their families and friends.
And what would be the implication for members of Government?:
I don't think political comment in Britain has yet cottoned on to the fact that our new government sincerely believe in this model... Do this job for a few years, asset-strip the exchequer, and then go on to a better paid job... That is his rational interest, so why would he not pursue it? If someone tells you they think it's right to take the money and run, one should not be surprised if they do it. They told you first.
British Conservatism implements the 'take the money and run' model via a system of friendly collaboration based on extra-governmental contacts, usually formed during late teenage years. And within this context I think you need to understand that Fox doesn't think he's done anything wrong. They think that's how life should be. And as I said a year go 'they told you first'.
This a sadly plausible explanation.
I'm trying to remember but I think when I wrote that last year I was thinking about Sarah Palin, who was also making money hand over fist, in line with her own values.
I think they're trying to privatise the government. As far as I can make out, Fox was trying to run a department within (or rather without) his department, staffed and financed by his own mates.
I suspect Cameron is not unhappy at the current turn of events, because I seem to remember Fox kept posturing about how pure and rightwing and independent-minded he was from week one of the coalition, and Cameron is probably quite pleased to have got something over him now.
But as with so many of these things, they don't actually want full privatisation, they want to maintain privileged access to our government buildings and resources. They want to have their jammy cake and metaphorically eat it.
I agree - if this had been an opposition-planted story I think it would've shown up during the Tory conference the previous week.
The only issue I have with this analysis is that you use the word 'conseratives' when this applies equally to 99% of the political media elite, regardless of party affiliation. The last cabinet were jus as bad. This is a genuine issue for anyone concerned about our democratic institutions, not a party-political matter.
I think that's not the case. For example, I know the right hate Gordon Brown, but I do not think anybody of any persuasion argues that he either thought it was morally right to use British government resources to make himself rich, nor that he actually did so.
Some Labour politicians are more right wing than others, but that doesn't 'left wing people are really right wing' it means 'the more left of the major parties nevertheless includes some quite right wing people'.
This activity which we are discussing - strive unequivocally to make yourself and your friends rich - is an appropriate behaviour according to right wing theory. And different ideas about what is moral or appropriate are bound to have an effect on behaviour.
I would say pay attention to what people say they believe. If they think that using any means to obtain money for themselves is right, morally right I mean, then it is not shocking or even immoral to discover that is what they do. There is the theory, and this is the practice.
But Gordon believed in exactly that nnonsensical growth theory along with most of the western world. The fact that his personally parsimonious character meant that he didn't practice what he preached in his personal life is a different matter. Those attitudes you label right wing are part of a general selfishness of the baby-boom generation and beyond, dressed up behind a variety of political creeds over the last fifty years but always ending up in the same place.
Believing in economic growth is not the same as believing that social prosperity is dependent on every person striving to make themselves as rich as possible. In the short term the choices are to attempt to keep the economy growing or going straight to post-capitalism. (my point being that only a massively radical PM would choose anything but making capitalism work for a while longer).
But within capitalism there are left and right wing approaches. The left wing approach is different from the right wing approach. There are different beliefs about what is good for society, and different ideas about what is morally right.
Edited at 2011-10-13 07:30 pm (UTC)
I agree with this in principle. But I certainly witnessed behaviours not totally unlike Fox's during the last government, both within the public/civil service and in the politico community.
I'm just wondering why Fox is getting such a kicking for this, when that odious little toad Gove managed to get one of his mates a £500K contract without going through appropriate procurement mechanisms for her to work on the free schools programme...
There are two reasons I think. One is that some Labour people, and a lot of civil servants, have right wing values. The second is that some left wing people do things that are wrong according to their own values. I've certainly done thing against my own beliefs.
But 'Someone's mum' that we knew, I believe is right wing in her values.
Gove is part of Cameron's set. What a horrible little clique that must be.
I was speaking specifically of his theory of growth, not growth on general; but yes, there are quite possibly left and right wing approaches to this. I've just not seen any -actual- variance in the approach of any government since the 50s that would lead me to conclude that the differences are more than words.
On the other hand, I would -like- there to be a real difference, and I would be coming down on whatever side the people running things for the last 50-60 years (right or left) are -not- on. In the west, we have a relative decline to manage and that needs to be done in a way that doesn't screw everyone over; especially the poorest (which rigid ideology almost invariably does)
There are many profound differences. I believe that provision of public transport will help capitalism, and this is a left wing value. Many things that are against the interest of a single business (paying tax, having to spend extra on health and safety, higher pay for workers) are paradoxically good for business as an institution. That is why I believe a left wing social democrat party is better for capitalism than a conservative party. Though in the mid-term capitalism is dead.
I'm fairly certain I pay busines taxes, use the buses and trains etc, go to hospitals, schools etc much as everyone has done for the last 60 years - because everyone in government has done basically the same things since the war; they've often talked a different game, but they don't -do- anything different; for every 'left-wing' government that increases taxes on the poor, there's a 'right wing' government that increases health spending in real terms for every term they are in office, and vice versa.
We are indeed in a new world, though few seem to realise it. Just as the late 19th century consensus was replaced with a post war consensus, I am sure we will (eventually) see the current elites come to a new consensus that allows them to retain the merry-go-round of power in the face of a relative economic decline.
Yes, I am not saying 'right wing people do not pay tax'. I am saying that 'reduce tax on business' is a right wing value. It's not as if that is controversial. I am not insulting anyone by saying that.
And it is obvious that there has been a great change in government policy as a result of the election. It hasn't gone from extreme left to extreme right, it has gone from moderate centre-left to fairly hard right. And the impact on society and the economy has already been quite striking. Quite noticeable to almost everyone. Some think that's a good change, and I think it's a bad one.
Yes, but you're still talking about what people say, not what they do. We haven't seen any meaningful changes in business taxation, the 50p tax remains in place, government spending has still been increasing since the election, just at a marginally slower rate, and the opposition makes general noises about not liking what's happening while saying that they wouldn't actually reverse any changes. The opposition proposals for marginally more borrowing and marginally slower reduction in deficit would be tinkering around the edges. Public and private sector firms alike continue to shut down / reduce in size. I expect we'll even see the much (and rightly) disliked investment banks suffer some more casualties.
But not because of any government policy. The main factor in play is, as GB rightly said, the operation of the global economic downturn (and i only mock GB on that for having claimed to eliminate the economic cycle in an unwise moment of hubris.) But both sides deploy the language of left/right about micro-differences to try to please ideologically-motivated supporters.
Of course government spending is out of control. My argument from the start is that it is a false economy to make wild cuts, to stop people from working, and redirect money to a small number of rich people. It's cutting the throat of our economy.
Well. Anyway, I will let each person judge for themselves whether the Lib Dem-Tory coalition has had no effect on this country, as you say, or whether it has precipitated a desperate crisis (or I suppose the third option is that it has been a triumphant success). I think the evidence speaks for itself.
But those are my arguments:
- right wing people have right wing values
- people's behaviour manifests their values
- because right wing economic theories are harmful they have harmful effects.
I think only the third is really a controversial statement, and all I'd say to anyone is look at the evidence and decide.
I'm not making a case for the coalition. I'm making a case for the marginal impact of any government, and the marginal difference in action between any government. And the generally negative impact of all of it. This leads to my general distaste for all of them. The coalition has tested my optimism about the possibility of breaking out of this pattern to destruction.
My argument is that
- politicians espouse various ideological positions
- what they do when in power is rarely consistent with what they say (especially when in opposition)
- it is always possible to pick anecdotes to support one's own conception of a government's action
- all economic theories are basically harmful because they tend to reflect desire rather than reality
So basically 'it doesn't matter who you vote for, the bastards always get in', which is surely a widespread view. It's a sophisticated defence of the establishment, because it looks anti-establishment. I think a couple of the right wingers on Question Time were making this argument. We'll probably see a lot more of it now.
Actually, 'you're kidding yourself if you think that voting for someone who says what you like to hear / wears the right coloured rosette will make more than a marginal difference; if you really want change you have to do something about it, because actions are more important than words, and much more important than labels'
In particular the political media elite (or 'establishment' if you like) have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of us, and all tend to act in their own interests rather than ours. We need to do something ourselves if we want to change that. Voting -does- matter, but is insufficient.