Big government may be dead but iDemocracy will reshape our lives

Apologies for the lack of content in the last week folks, Bogpaper Towers has been struck down with a nasty cold so things have been taking a back seat for the last few days. But worry not, we are now back up and running at full speed and will continue to bring you top thoughts, articles and podcasts as always.

Today’s offering is from Douglas Carswell MP, a long time hero of ours who is a huge advocate of small government and greater responsibility amongst the electorate. We’re planning on reading his book so we’ll let you know how we get on.

Read the original article here.

IT’S over. The West’s big government way of doing things is coming to an end. For six years, the financial crisis has rumbled on. The longer it does so, the clearer it becomes that we are not watching a global crisis, but a Western one. From Spain and Greece to Britain and America, we are witnessing the death of the idea that you can run a burgeoning welfare state on the back of a shrinking wealth-producing base.

In every Western democracy, over the past century, government grew. Officialdom expanded because officials slowly but surely discovered how to live beyond their tax base. Manipulating the money and over-borrowing allowed Western elites to subvert democratic constraints and spend without taxing.

As a consequence, limited government has been replaced by Leviathan. In many Western countries, the state sector has now reached a size that would have seemed unthinkable to mainstream politicians just a generation ago. Many supposedly free market countries now have larger state sectors than those nations that spent most of the past century following Marx.

But the financial crisis repudiates the notion that government can forever live beyond its tax base. Greece might be the first modern Western state to discover that you cannot indefinitely borrow to sustain a lifestyle you do not earn. It will not be the last.

Showering the economy with cheap credit might have created the illusion of prosperity for a while. The short-term boom might have generated enough additional tax revenue to make it seem sustainable. But ever stronger doses of cheap credit cannot ultimately hide the decline in competitiveness that Western welfarism has produced.

Across Europe, Britain and America, we have only managed to maintain living standards by borrowing off the dynamic, productive non-Western world. Within the space of a generation, the West has gone from a position of global economic pre-eminence to bailout beggar.

Should we despair? Are we doomed? Actually, no. At the precise moment that maths makes our big government model unsustainable, technology means we can do without it.

This year, public officials will spend something like £30,000 per family buying public services for you. Just imagine if you could purchase services bought in your name for yourself?

Instead of having to stand in a line to wait for what you are given, imagine if you could manage your family’s own health account, with all your medical records stored on your own iPad? Rather than having your child’s education shaped by catchment areas, imagine if you could tailor-make a personalised curriculum, funded from an individual learning account?

The constant justification for more officialdom is that we need other people to decide things for us. Left to our own devices, claims the man in Whitehall, we would not know what to do.

Thanks to the internet, no one needs to be left to their own devices at all. It puts each of us at the centre of a vast, sprawling web of collective knowledge. It will enable us to make collective choices and take collective action, but without the state directing us.

The digital revolution will do to government planners in the West what the collapse of Communism did to Soviet planners a generation ago. It is not just that the political economy will change. The technocratic elite that preside over it will be displaced, as we manage with less officialdom.

“But,” I hear you protest, “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”. Indeed they do not. But when did that stop 25 December from coming round?

Greek politicians might not have run for office promising less officialdom in Athens. Yet the Greek state is still shrinking fast. The laws of maths always prevail against the laws of politicians. And Britain, I am sure you know, is on course to have a larger deficit as a share of GDP than Greece. It is not what the political classes say that counts. It is debt and the digital revolution that will determine our future.

Besides, what is it that makes you assume leaving things to big government is quite so popular? Is it because that’s what the politicians tell you? Wouldn’t you prefer to run your own life instead?

Be happy. Less government might be bad news for politicians. It will good news for everyone else.

Douglas Carswell is Conservative MP for Clacton. His book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy (Biteback) is out now.

  • Simon Roberts

    The book may prove more illuminating but, the arguments in the summary don’t really seem to hold much water. It seems to suggest that Big Government will come to an end for two practical reasons, but appears to have overlooked some important factors:

    Big Government is unsustainable
    It has been unsustainable for some time now but that hasn’t stopped politicians from allowing it to continue to grow.
    Since Margaret Thatcher was deposed we have been back on Keith Joseph’s ‘socialist ratchet’ where the state grows under each Labour administration only to have that growth slowed (but not reversed) under the interim Conservative administrations, including the current one.
    We are now past the point where more than 50% of the electorate rely on the Government for their living (welfare recipients, Government workers and businesses dependant on Government contracts) so from now on we aren’t going to see any cuts in the state sector – not that we are seeing any at the moment, despite all the media screeching.

    The internet makes personal selection of services possible.
    This is the case and has been for some time, but the fact that it is possible does not mean that it will ever happen.
    The argument for centrally-provided services has not been that it was the only possible mechanism (the US had personally-arranged healthcare long before the advent of the Internet) but rather that it was the best, fairest way to do it.
    This isn’t true of course, but it is an argument which is unaffected by a technology which allows people to more easily make personal choices.

  • Captain Skin

    The forthcoming world financial crash will force the elite and big government’s hand. We are hopefully approaching a freer and more sustainable future built on sound money (gold and silver) and free market enterprise, unburdened by crony capitalism and the thieving bureaucracy of the state. I, for one, cannot wait…

    • http://bogpaper.wordpress.com Bogpaper.com

      Thanks for your comment Captain Skin, we too are looking forward to a less bureaucratic state in which we can choose our money and make decisions about how to run our lives.

  • right_writes

    I am new to this blog, blame Delingpole’s mention yesterday… :)

    Anyway, I watched Carswell being interviewed by Jan Skoyles (Ms. Bogpaper?), and thought that very interesting, I now read this introduction to his new book… and this looks interesting too…

    I have to say, that I had been put off him following that book about his ideas on “direct democracy” which just seemed to be about hiring loads of people through election rather than interview, which frankly seemed to be a bit daft. Maybe he is beginning to redeem himself.

    Here is my twopenneth though, so far, he has been talking about electronic goods, and the rather ephemeral “services” sector…

    I am wondering how he is going to argue his way around the practice that government has of restricting the movement of goods across borders, because there doesn’t seem to be an “internet” way out of this.

    • Bogpaper.com

      Hi right_writes, welcome to Bogpaper and thank you for your comment!

      Here at Bogpaper Towers, we are currently making our way through Mr Carswell’s new book and highly recommend it, but your comment regarding the movement of physical goods across borders has prompted much discussion here.

      Whilst we are obviously moving into a future where services are going to dominate economic activity, this does not mean that that physical goods (which often help us to function day to day and carry out those services) will be needed. Perhaps Mr Carswell has figured out a way to de-materialise physical goods! This is definitely a thought for another Bogpaper article.

      Perhaps we’ll ask Mr Carswell in for a chat so Bogpaper readers can ask him all about the new book and his ideas.

      As to Ms Bogpaper…who knows…