The Left’s Irrational Addiction to High Public Spending 151


There is no correlation between high public spending and social and economic equality.

I favour much greater redistribution of both income and capital than allowed by the current political consensus in the UK. But I also favour much greater cuts in public spending – perhaps four times greater, over a decade – than Osborne just delivered. The two are not incompatible.

Under New Labour there was a massive step change in levels of public spending and in the percentage of GDP comprised of state activity. Did social equality improve? No. The wealth gap between the wealthiest and the poorest yawned wider and wider. Even in the public sector itself, the gap between richest and poorest grew until it is now seriously proposed, with a straight face, that the situation be redressed so that the highest paid executive in a public organisation should only (!) be paid twenty times more than the lowest paid employee.

Blairism should have shattered forever the notion that very high levels of public spending are the answer to social inequality. But it is a notion to which the left is addicted.

I favour redistribution because Sir Fred Goodwin, Wayne Rooney and Tony Blair area perfect reductio ad absurdumof the notion that a system that rewards the ability to grab money in a laissez faire manner has desirable results. The Duke of Westminster does the same for accumulated capital. I also truly hate the pvoerty in which so many good people are trapped. But the notion that Britain’s vastly over-inflated bureaucracies address this problem is tenuous, to say the least.

I also believe that it is not coincidental that New Labour’s huge physical increase in the state coincided with a massive erosion of civil liberty.

So I view those protesting against cuts in public spending as well-motivated but trapped in a historical accumulation of palliative devices which each attracted a massive superstructire of self-interested providers and administrators.


151 thoughts on “The Left’s Irrational Addiction to High Public Spending

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  • technicolour

    I must say, I don’t know any poor people who carry around large wads of cash. Perhaps you have a nose for the ones who do?

    And I share your frustration at those ruthless inhabitants of terrible areas who skim off their helpless neighbours. Such people have always been with us, I think. And they exist in all walks of life.

    And yes, councils in poor areas need to be challenged on their housing benefits policies: they will pay a private landlord £400 a week no questions asked for a deathtrap flat which its inhabitants know is hardly worth half that. Where’s the sense in that? And this government are doing nothing to address it, except to squeeze people out of the better areas.

    And life in better areas is – better. More green, more trees, more services, better air, more activities, less general despair. You’re far less likely to turn to drugs or violent criminality if you live in Holland Park instead of Haringey, or a Glasgow housing estate, I suggest. No matter what your income.

  • technicolour

    “The figure £25000 is a total figure when you role in everything child support jos seekers rent rates motobility car. freedom pass worth nearly £3000.”

    So your suggestion that ‘most families on the poverty line are getting incomes in excess of £25,000’ isn’t actually substantiated? I didn’t think it could be, judging by the people around me.

    But Steve, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying. Not surprising, as I have worked and lived in such communities for years. I can therefore tell you that the drunken Lithuanian is drunk because he is in despair at being separated from his wife and family, while working 18 hours a day and living in a workhouse here to support them. Or desperate because his job has finished and now he can’t afford to get home at all. The ‘illegal immigrants’ who have jobs are equally doing the kind of jobs no-one in their right minds would do if they had a choice eg packing for £1.25 an hour.

    As for Mr Smith with his 5 children: perhaps he is able to get a job, but simply unable to get a job which will pay enough to keep his family: society has made them unaffordable. This is what the churches referred to as the ‘poverty trap’; people stuck on benefits because wages in real terms have not increased to match costs.

    Or perhaps he is in a bad way, after decades of poor nourishment and bad air and a lack of mental stimulation and exercise. Or perhaps he is a bloated gangster playing the system, of course. In which case it is up to our forces of law & order to deal with him and not concentrate their efforts on his victims, I agree again.

  • Steve

    Tecnicolour

    We agree at last I want to help and I do everyday in a small way but it is uphill all the way fighting through people with agendas who will never admit a person is bad no matter what, as everyone is a victim. Poor people feed off poorer people and rich people feed off everyone. Chucking money and creating quango’s paying middle class do gooders with an ology 40000+ a year to teach parents how to parent or how to claim and maximise benefit income does not help. Create worthwhile real jobs in deprived areas COOPS or collectives earning real money. Jump all over cheats and scroungers and criminals locking them up or kicking them out of houses if needed. You will be surprised how the threat of loosing their house suddenly makes mum or dad take control of ASBO kids when everything else failed previously. AS for where you live again I cant disagree with that but to prove a point in the late 1970’s Red Ken and the GLA moved a number of “problem families out of London and into the countryside. Building large estates with reasonably pleasant housing for the time. One such place was in Suffolk where I used to work. The place was full of fresh air with Thetford Forest across the road and a beautiful rural village centre. After a couple of years it became a slum ghetto where police cars had to go in twos or threes as kids chucked paving slabs through the windows when responding to spoof 999 calls. I visit the area often and a couple of generations later it isnt much better. when I was there about 80% of the crime eminated from that estate. AS you say we will always have an underclass but how do we choose the deserving ones and rescue them without wasting millions on the helpless?

  • technicolour

    Well, we sort of agree! I think the helpless are as deserving of help as anyone else. What they really need, of course, is equality.

    And no, resettlement doesn’t usually work. People uprooted, ripped away from old communities, and placed in modern build estate ghettos with no established shops, pubs or services tend to go downhill quite rapidly. There may have been a beautiful rural village centre, but it will have grown to cater for the people who could afford it; not for the needs of a poor and disparate new influx?

    “Create worthwhile real jobs in deprived areas COOPS or collectives earning real money.”

    Absolutely! Instead they are evicting voluntary social centres in empty shops, sometimes with tasars, and threatening perfectly legal ones – for fear that they become hotbeds of self-education and cooperation, I suppose.

    “Jump all over cheats and scroungers and criminals locking them up or kicking them out of houses if needed.”

    There we differ, or at least ‘cheats and scoungers and criminals’ is a broad church and I can’t whip up the kind of anger those words seem to merit. Yes, technically one could go after the man on JSA not declaring his extra income from window cleaning. I think it’s a waste of public time and money, myself, as well as pointless and outside the spirit of our laws. Don’t you?

    Threatening people might, in some cases work, but it’s been the growing trend generally, and doesn’t seem to have worked, generally?

    Interesting discussion, and good to hear your experiences, though.

  • technicolour

    “After a couple of years it became a slum ghetto where police cars had to go in twos or threes as kids chucked paving slabs through the windows when responding to spoof 999 calls.”

    – bad experiences, sounds like Belfast, but very evocatively written!

  • Wayne

    I shagged your missus up the arse and she like it.

    his is why you worry about me rattling your backfuckingdoor eh yeah?

  • Roderick Russell

    Vronsky says, “I rather liked Alfred’s idea of outsourcing government.”

    One problem with outsourcing is that it can only work if the bidding process is competently and honestly done; otherwise one just ends up with a very expensive mess (and a few politicians with large smiles on their faces). Now Alfred lives in Victoria, BC and he may well feel that the Victoria-based British Columbia Government (one of the first governments in the world to develop P3 programs) does meet this double criteria of competence and honesty, but can the same be said for Westminster? For example, was the privatization of British Rail a success or a failure?

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Steve’s completely understandable frustration, I think, comes from working at the sharp end of the outcome of several decades of garbage economic, educational and social policies – both ‘Right’, ‘Left’ and ‘Centre’ bear responsibility for this – we all do – but the propagators of these disasters seldom have to deal with the fall-out: Steve (and the Social Worker locked in their office) does.

    Teachers, for example, now are at the mercy of ‘little emperor’ children whose parents indulge them via a craven bureaucracy that’s interested only in corporatising the brain and exerting corporate bullying tactics as a means to personal career advancement. It is a licence for psychopathy: a microcosm of the system.

    I noted again this morning that in the (very decent, well-off, highly-educated, etc.) area in which I live, drivers – often with children in their cars – are tending to ignore the amazingly brave and courteous ‘Lollipop’ Wardens whenever they can. They scrape thru’ at the last second as now they also scrape thru’ the initial period of a red traffic-light. This endangers the lives of the Warden and other children/ parents. As a parent (and also a driver) myself, I get furious at this and want to kick their (sadly, moving) car. But they don’t care. Across all social classes – and actually it is esp. evident among the wealthy, if one has ever interacted with them, one will learn this very swiftly – it’s dog-eat-dog and crass individualism (but with no sense of individual responsibility, only of entitlement) rules the roost. As TV constantly preaches to us all: Anything goes, as long as you win.

    Steve, technicolour, let’s try to keep on working in the struggle for a better – not utopian – society. Alone, we are nothing – at the mercy of brutes and crooks of all shades and classes – but united…

  • technicolour

    conversely i’ve worked in schools (usually quite middle class town schools) where the children have been crushed and silent. eerie.

    don’t get me wrong; i’m very interested in steve’s perspective and grateful to him for taking time to write it and reply.

  • technicolour

    Back to topic (sorry) I also think Craig’s point about redistribution is a fine one: perhaps obscured by its link to these stupid cuts.

  • Alfred

    What if there were no benfits for the able bodied unless they worked, and if a government agency ensured everyone wanting to work had a job, the wage subsidized by the government to within a penny of the minimum wage? At the subsidized rate, labor would be cheaper in England than in China.

    Technicolor said: Suhayl: what people want need is equality.

    Really? Perhaps what some of them need is a kick in the arse.

    When I was a kid, England was one of the safest and most law abiding places in the World. The annual murder rate was around 50. But then discipline was furious. Mothers slapped their children in public, boys were beaten in school, “juvenile delinquents” were sent to Borstal, vandals were birched, murderes were hanged and old ladies in boarding houses were said to fantasize about castrating rapists.

    Was there a connection between discipline and behaviour? LOL

    Glenn said: “All natural monopolies (water, public transport, energy, post, etc.) should be publicly owned and operated ”

    Thing is, though, there’s nothing very natural about most monopolies, with the possible exception of sewage.

    Public transport, for example, is only a public monopoly if it is publicly owned and protected from competition. But why shouldn’t I run a bus in competition with London Transport or whoever? It is not just me, but my potential passengers who lose if I am prevented from doing so.

    True, if there is only one pipe or one rail line then there will be no competition on that part of the service, although in the early days there was even competition among railways and utilities such as telephone and power. But there is no reason why you should be denied a choice of which train you take on a monopoly owned rail line or where your power or your water comes from. In some places in North America, for example, you locaI power company can supply you electricity generated from coal or from wind, the price depending on the source, the sources being independent producers.

    ” I don’t recall that the state did a terribly inefficient job when they ran the waterworks and so on.”

    That’s arguable. Before it was privatized, it is said that the London waterworks lost more than half their water to leaks! But more seriously, things may work differently now than they used to. Those old established public utilities had a low paid workforce that was guaranteed a job for life and whose members derived their sense of self worth from performing an essential public service. On the whole, therefore, they were well motivated, conscientious people with a wealth of experience. Now we all know such people are hopeless losers. So how do you recreate that kind of an organization?

    What I believe we are seeing in Britain, and Steve’s experience provides vivid evidence for this contention, is a civilizational collapse, hastened by a ruling elite who are stuffing their pockets with whatever isn’t nailed down before they take flight to their havens in Switzerland, Bermuda, Hong Kong, etc.

    Roderick, re outsourcing government, I was mostly thinking in terms of bureaucrats “filing sawdust through a knot hole” to use a vivid phrase of WAC Bennett’s. I thought the Indians could do that with as much inefficiency as the British but at lower cost.

    What has happened in British Columbia with the P3 thing is obscure. The media are too pathetic or too wedded to the corporate interest to investigate. But the essence of the policy seems to be to take old fashioned public monopolies run by good old boys who do a fairly decent job for a fairly modest wage and sell it off to some New York financiers who promptly double prices, cut wages and pay the chief exec millions. Most people assume we’ve been ripped off, which is why the Provincial Premier’s approval rating recently dipped into single digits. We’ll have the socialists back after the next election and they will no doubt screw up just as they always did before.

  • technicolour

    “old ladies in boarding houses were said to fantasize about castrating rapists.”

    just too weird.

    “Was there a connection between discipline and behaviour? LOL”

    spanky, spanky eh, Alfred? what made you into the supremely disciplined person that you are, I wonder?

  • technicolour

    less flippantly, i do wonder what makes someone in des res Canada so excitedly authoritarian. Murderers were hanged – yes, the death penalty went after the wave of revulsion caused by the wrong man being hanged for Christie’s murders, and seeing Bentley effectively murdered by the state. What a shame the Birmingham 6 missed out, I suppose.

    “Perhaps what some of them need is a kick in the arse” – of course, to get out there and find jobs which do not exist.

    Steve is quite right – poor does not equal automatically “good”; why should it? Dora Russell maintained that it is actually easier to be ‘good’ when you’re not at your beam ends and frantic with worry and instability. Would you agree?

  • Roderick Russell

    Technicolour – I don’t think that whether one is good or bad has anything to do with one’s wealth, though I will say this – when the rich and powerful go wrong, they are apt to go very wrong indeed.

  • Alfred

    Techie,

    I think it was Bertrand Russell who mentioned to old ladies in boarding houses, but I may be mistaken.

    Why do you take a statement of fact for a statement of opinion? What I stated about hanging is a fact. It was not a statement of advocacy. Whether the death penalty is a deterrent is something we could discuss. But to infer from what I said that I am for it is either due to very careless reading or shear prejudice.

    I am well aware that many innocent people have been hanged, which is why I have always argued against the death penalty.

    But none of that bears on the argument I made, which is that England used to be a heavily disciplined society, which worked quite well, and now is a bizarrely permissive society, which is fast disintegrating.

  • Freeborn

    Led like sheep by the corporate media it doesn’t seem to have crossed anyone’s mind that we might have been here before.

    The corporate media encourages people’s thinking to remain within an hermetically-sealed ahistorical vacuum.

    Santanyana predicted that those who fail to learn anything from history will be condemned to repeat it.

    Reading the above one gets a sense of just how accurate he was.

    Read the speeches of Robert LaFayette and Louis MacFadden and discover just how much our situation today resembles the one they lived through a century ago.

    http://www.milestonedocuments.com/documents/full-text/robert-la-follettes-speech-on-the-amendment-of the-national-banking-laws/

    In the twentieth century there were numerous depressions and panics. The issues involved were probably more honestly and openly discussed than they are today.

  • technicolour

    Alfredo: yes, it was a fact, but it was a selective fact – innocent people were hanged too. Also you were using it as an example of a ‘heavily disciplined’ society which ‘worked quite well’ as opposed to ours, which is ‘dinsintegrating’. It was therefore loaded with opinion.

    If this is a case of you moving away from your previous position (you say you’ve argued against the death penalty) I assure you that as someone who has no axe to grind I would not wish to live in a society which officially executed people whether it was a ‘deterrent’ or not. In fact the murder rate in the UK is at its lowest for 20 years, apparently.

  • Anonymous

    Craig’s post from July 6th:

    Apostate, Freeborn and Steelback (who may or may not all be the same person) are not welcome on this site, under these or any other names, for persistent anti-semitism and holocaust denial.

  • Alfred

    Listen, Technochio,

    You’re a genius at insinuation:

    “it was a fact, but it was a selective fact”

    Bollocks, I stated that in the 50’s Britain was a severely disciplined society in which, among other things, murderers were hanged. This is a fact. And in the context, it would have been entirely irrelevant to go into the issue of capital punishment, a topic on which I am probably as well informed as you, and on which my moral position is probably as good as yours.

    “Also you were using it as an example of a ‘heavily disciplined’ society which ‘worked quite well’ as opposed to ours, which is ‘dinsintegrating’. ”

    So what are you saying, a society with a murder rate of 50 a year did not work better than one with a 20-year low of 648 homicides (U.K. 2009)? Or that a society with 12 indictable offenses per thousand was not better disciplined than one with, as in Britain today, ten times that many?

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/rp99/rp99-111.pdf

  • Alfred

    There’s a great talk here by Chris Hedges on how liberals betrayed every principle they ever possessed.

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article26658.htm

    It explains what Technochio cannot understand, that there is nothing inevitable about progress, that society can go to the dogs as readily, no probably much more readily, than it can rise to a high state of civilization, and that the present descent of man, as readily witness in Britain has been propelled by liberals and all those who never heard of a social program they didn’t support.

  • technicolour

    Oh Alfred. The demographics way back when were different. If you can’t see that 648 murders a year out of a population of 60 million people is not still pretty amazing, leaving murderers, as it does, as a drop in the ocean, and affirming the non-psychopathic nature of humanity in general when allowed to live in relative peace, then what?

    But you don’t have to live with the fear spread by the propaganda here, I suppose.

    Btw why did you bother mentioning murderers and hanging if the issue of capital punishment was ‘irrelevant’?

  • Anonymous

    “…cannot understand, that there is nothing inevitable about progress, that society can go to the dogs as readily, no probably much more readily, than it can rise to a high state of civilization”

    Oh, I do understand. My definition of a civilised society is one which does not execute its own people, or launch attacks on others, among other criteria. What’s yours?

    “Going to the dogs” – yes, going to a state where force (Alfred would say ‘discipline’) rules, and where big men kicking arses roam the streets.

  • Alfred

    “why did you bother mentioning murderers and hanging if the issue of capital punishment was ‘irrelevant’? \”

    I didn’t say it was irrelevant. I mentioned it because it was illustrative of a severely disciplined society. I was stating a fact. How many times do I have to point that out?

    And the existence of the death penalty was highly relevant. It was an indication of an attitude: the belief that people are responsible for their actions. Hence most supported the death penalty. The fact that the police usually got the wrong person was not then generally understood.

    As for demographics, the fact remains that the number of homicides and indictable offenses per thousand has risen ten-fold since the 1950’s. You think that’s insignificant?

    What is amazing to me is that there are so many people who think things are going in the right direction and that if only the rich were taxed a lot more everything would be perfect.

  • Alfred

    Anon,

    You ask my definition of a civilized society, but I have already given it. It would not include the kind of welfare bums that Steve describes above (who Techie thinks suffer only from a lack of equality, and self-esteem no doubt, poor bastards), or the corporate/banking welfare bums who own the present British government. That is why I proposed above a scheme that would ensure everyone able to work had an opportunity to work and a powerful incentive to do so.

    As for the elite, I haven’t a prescription. Saying they should be taken out and shot, doesn’t count since there’s no way to effect such a policy. Progress just is not inevitable. Societies fail. Britain is failing. Near bankrupt, industrially uncompetitive, ruled by a fraudulent elite who regard the masses as scum:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FnmnuDiVno

    and with a huge middle-class employed by government and feeding off the crumbs that fall from the bankers tables.

    Chris Hedges thinks fascism, what he calls inverted fascism, has arrived. I am not so sure it marks the end of the road, however. We may still see the real thing climb out of the gutter, when a charismatic leader convinces the working poor to turn against the parasites that blight their existence.

  • technicolour

    Alfred: there were fewer murders in 1950 than there are now, and you perhaps think that this says something.

    What you think it says, I don’t know. The figures are rather too small to attempt a conclusion; other than that murderers are extremely rare. Admittedly, we do not make it easy for people to kill accidentally or casually (with guns, for example); perhaps you would agree that this is a good thing?

    Anyway, the fact that the murder rate drops regardless of punishment is surely relevant, if those figures are.

    Unless, of course, you’re suggesting that it is good per se for a society to be ‘highly disciplined’. Whether it ‘works’ in cutting murder etc or not. Let me see. Which examples of such ‘highly disciplined’ for the sake of it societies can I think of? And would I like to live in one?

  • technicolour

    “when a charismatic leader convinces the working poor to turn against the parasites that blight their existence.”

    Mmm. Perhaps he’ll have a small moustache.

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