Russell Taylor: Sign up here to fight for the future

I’ve just become a father for the second time, and I find myself wondering what kind of a world my daughter will grow up in. From my perspective, we’re living in an age of decline. Not just economically, but culturally and spiritually. We have come to believe that people are unruly children in need of supervision by their elders and betters. The differences between us are not due to differences our abilities or efforts, but because some people take more than their fair share – a situation that can only be put right by redistributing life’s bounty more equally. As P.J. O’Rourke put it, the people who have money are hogging it, and the way for the rest of us to get money is to turn the hogs into bacon.

Most of us believe, to some degree or another, that we can’t do without the government. We think that we could never afford healthcare, schooling, pensions and the rest, if we had to pay for them ourselves in full. Without the state to offer us a helping hand, the grasping fat cats of commerce would put these things beyond our reach. While they smoked cigars, quaffed champagne and had money fights with their Tory buddies, the rest of us would be dying in the streets, to the sound of screams, sirens and breaking glass. A benign state is all that stands between us and the tyranny of other people’s selfishness and greed.

Don’t believe the hype. This is an illusion; a con job; an ancient grift that has hoodwinked generations. Here is the truth of the matter: you don’t need the state – not as much as you think you do, anyway. To paraphrase Brendan Behan, there is no situation so bad that it cannot be made worse by the government. When it tries to raise things in one place, it always drags them down in another. For all its money and power, and all the experts at its disposal, all it does is blunder into our lives like an clumsy toddler through a picnic. It doesn’t know what we want, or what we’d do given a choice. The best it can manage is to second-guess us and force its attentions on us, like (at the risk of overdoing it on the similes) a beery uncle at a wedding.

Using government spending as a guide to how much things like healthcare and schooling cost is like using the Sultan of Brunei’s restaurant bill to calculate the price of a square meal. The only reason public services cost so much is that they’re public services. They are designed to solve a problem created by their own existence. The state can’t control costs to make things affordable to the masses. All it can do is make something so expensive that it can only be afforded by the state.

Plenty will tell you that the financial sector needs regulating to spare us from another crash. But without the central banking system, the big state safety net, and government encouragement to spend and lend, the banks would never have got into such a mess. When everything went belly-up, things were made worse by the structural weakness of the economy, caused by years of government overspending. The economic waters receded to reveal the bloated form of the state, flapping helplessly on the beach. Its supporters rushed to its aid, beseeching the public to save it, but those with any sense asked why we’d needed such a large and useless beast in the first place.

This isn’t just about money, either. Whatever quality of service the state sector provides is not achieved because it puts care over profits, but in spite of this. Anyone who eschews efficiency and profitability because they deem them vulgar considerations, antithetical to value and good service, is an idiot. The empty-headed cult of love-versus-greed has for far too long been used to manipulate our feelings and provide a mandate for empowering the state and its supporters.

It shouldn’t need pointing out, but simply wanting to have lots of money is not enough to persuade people to give it to you. First you have to give them something they want, and it has to be cheaper and/or better than what the next guy is offering. So how do you cut prices without losing money? You reduce costs by becoming more productive and efficient. And what if you can’t or won’t drop your price as much as your rivals? Then what you’re selling needs to be superior to the alternatives. All this is good news for those with money to spend, because it means they have people falling over themselves to satisfy their needs; who are striving to be more proficient and inventive; who want to make their products cheaper and better.

Ever wondered why personal computers are continually becoming faster, cheaper and cleverer? It’s not because the hippies of Silicon Valley have decided to evoke the spirit of the Summer of Love and do the world’s computer users a favour. It’s right there in the paragraph above. They want your cash and will bend over backwards to ensure you spend it with them, rather than anyone else.

It’s the same with food. Forty years ago, our culinary tastes in Britain were as grey and lumpen as the food itself. You were more likely to put olive oil in your ear than on your pasta – if only because your pasta probably came out of a tin. As our tastes became more sophisticated, supermarkets responded by stocking more varied produce, and competition between them drove prices down and quality up. Now, you can buy the kind of foods that were once the preserve of the wealthy for knock-down prices. For the first time in our history, obesity is a symptom of poverty, and campaigners are calling for food to be made more expensive to curb our appetites.

Falling prices mean rising living standards, because people are able to buy more with less. As they spend their surplus cash, they create fresh demand, which results in new jobs and more people with money to spend. It’s a virtuous, self-sustaining cycle. There will be ups and downs, of course, as people make misjudgments, but the overall trend is one of improvement.

The key to this process is competition. Unless you fear being trumped by someone else, you’ve no incentive to be helpful or efficient. You can serve up whatever crap you like for whatever price you please, and the public will have to suck it up. Which is fine if people are happy to take or leave what you’re offering, but not so great if you’re selling something essential to them. I don’t care if you’re Ed Miliband, Mother Teresa or Santa Claus – good intentions are not enough. Only the constant fear of failure and the promise of success can make you work to the best of your ability.

A surly, foot-dragging NHS receptionist wouldn’t last five minutes in the private sector, because her employer would fear customers taking their business elsewhere. But when it comes to the NHS, there is no ‘elsewhere’, unless you’re wealthy enough to go private – and the receptionist knows this. She also knows that her superiors share her conviction that a lack of concern for profit and efficiency puts them on the side of the angels, irrespective of the service they provide. I don’t blame them, because it’s human nature to take the course of least resistance. I blame the people who are so stupid, naïve, or eager to sidestep reality that they think a good heart and a clever plan can make a difference.

Going to back to my (oft used) example of food, no sane person thinks the government would do a better job of producing it than the private sector. God only knows what a state-run supermarket would look like. Like something out of the Soviet Union, probably, with the addition of posters urging us to celebrate diversity. What certainly wouldn’t be celebrated or diverse is the food on offer. With an effectively infinite demand to cope with, supply would have to be rationed and choice restricted. You can forget about it being cheap, either. Oh sure, it wouldn’t cost anything at the point of use, but there’s no such thing as free money – we always pay in the long run. With no reason to control costs, they would inevitably spiral, along with our taxes.

Turning this example on its head, if government food markets were already a reality, you’d probably find the same arguments being made in their favour that you hear for the rest of the public sector. But knowing what we know, we can say with confidence that we’re better off with the status quo. The reason this doesn’t compute with many people is that they compare free-at-the-point-of-use with upfront payment, and conclude that the former is a better deal – which, I hope, I have demonstrated it is not.

As for our moral progress, do you honestly believe we have become a more tolerant country because of hate laws and anti-racist witch hunts? Have we bollocks. We’ve become that way because when people are left alone, they tend to set aside their superficial differences and focus on what they can do for each other. All those state-sponsored efforts to make us less prejudiced only highlighted difference and perpetuated bigotry. Moreover, they’ve fostered a culture of grievance and self-pity that has encouraged us to treat those who don’t share our skin colour or sexual orientation as a potential threat. So much for creating a more cohesive society.

We don’t need to be told what to eat and how much to drink. We’re capable of avoiding smoky places, if we’re worried about the risk to our health. We don’t need the government to plan for our happiness, to protect our feelings, to referee our relationships, or tell us how to raise our kids. We are more intelligent, resilient and responsible than we’re led to believe. We just need to ignore the maddening drone of propaganda that seeks to undermine our self-belief, and get on with our lives.

The ‘experts’ disagree with my calls for a smaller state. They want more government, not less. They warn of the dangers of too much freedom and too little top-down control. Well, of course they do. Without an interventionist state, they have no one to enact their ideas on a stage commensurate with their egos. The same goes for all the other apparatchiks of government: the diversity consultants, the community outreach officers, the health-and-safety führers, and the rest of the make-work mandarins who would have us believe we can’t do without them. There’s no spontaneous public demand for their ‘talents’. They know that without the government, they’d be driven back into the shadows, or would have to get real jobs.

So what to do? It’s a fair question, but to ask it is to risk being part of the problem. The root cause of our woes is too many people eager to ‘do’ something – not as individuals, working voluntarily together, but through elected officials. That’s how democracy works, of course, and that’s half the trouble. Electing people to make things better on our behalf only leads to an abdication of personal responsibility, and to the sucking bog of left-leaning muck we find ourselves in today. Democracy is not freedom; it’s tyranny with a respectable veneer. It’s an invite for the worst people to stick the badge of high office on their chests and start ordering us about.

Suppose your neighbours told you they were holding a vote to decide whether to demolish your house. But don’t worry, you’re allowed to vote too, so justice will be done. Just make sure you gather up your belongings before the wrecking crew arrives. Doesn’t seem right, does it? Because what your neighbours want shouldn’t matter. It’s your house, so yours is the only opinion that should count. That, in a nutshell, is the trouble with democracy. It is a defect which demands that power be devolved, so that we manage our own affairs and are no longer susceptible to the whim of others.

We’ll never be free of government, so given democracy’s shortcomings, the one we elect should seek to do as little as possible. The chief obstacle to this is that when people can vote themselves benefits paid for by others, they will invariably do so – but only if they think they would be worse off otherwise. And that is the thrust of my rant. People need convincing that they will be better off without the state lollipop in their mouths. This will require the election of a political party committed to scaling back the state and showing people why this is the right thing to do. And for that party to be elected requires as many of us as possible to keep making a noise – to keep presenting the case for freedom.

With this cause in mind, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes – one I’ve used before – from Ronald Reagan. In this age of the bureaucrat, the technocrat and the bullying pundit, it is more important than ever that we try to invoke its spirit. Our children’s futures depend upon it.

“Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”

  • nick mcgarvey

    Most folks are afraid of personal responsibility. Subsidiarity is not understood or welcomed by most. Nursey, teacher, policeman…add your own, knows best. The somebody should do something culture is so ingrained that individual actions are frowned upon. I do not want to be part of ‘a comooonity’. Just because I live in the same street, town or country as someone else does not mean we all have the same aspirations. Anyone who is given any sort of power over any other individual will always abuse it in favour of themselves or their tribe. Protect the borders, ensure the rule of law with equality before the law and then butt out of peoples lives.

    • Russell Taylor

      We may find that, for the sake of our individuality, we have to form a community of sorts with the people who can provide us with the things we need. Equally, we may choose to bond with our neighbours, because have a shared interest in the welfare of our neighbourhood. When these networks evolve spontaneously, I think it is wonderful. The bogus, state-sponsored notion of community you refer to, however, you can keep.

      In the recent floods, I noticed an interesting reaction from some people. Several flood victims were appalled that volunteers had been required to fetch and dispense sandbags to their neighbours. As far as they were concerned, this should have been the government’s job. Having paid their taxes, they felt no responsibility to help themselves or their neighbours protect their property.

  • therealguyfaux

    “Unless you fear being trumped by someone else, you’ve no incentive to be helpful or efficient. You can serve up whatever crap you like for whatever price you please, and the public will have to suck it up. Which is fine if people are happy to take or leave what you’re offering, but not so great if you’re selling something essential to them.”

    But even when it ISN’T strictly speaking necessary but merely desirable, although its desirability is founded upon false premises, you STILL get the above. To the extent that the consumer is willing to put up initially with a lesser good/service for a lower price, there will be a “conspiracy” of all providers to do less– and eventually to charge more as they dare to. And to the extent that goods/services providers have “pull” down at City Hall, and can make entry into their field more difficult, there is every incentive for the provider to get as much for as little as possible, and for his competitors to do the same, roughly, as their costs will be similar for most of them– and the consumer will either have to take it or leave it if he can, or grudgingly acquiesce if he cannot. And the condition thus engendered was foretold in the 1950’s by humourist Jean Shepherd, and he called it Creeping Meatballism. (see link)

    “Life is a shyte sandwich, and every day they make you take a bigger bite.”

    • Russell Taylor

      Perhaps, but the answer is never more government intervention, in my opinion. Sellers will always try to give as little as possible for as much as possible. Consumers need to be prepared to do the opposite.

    • Rocco @Bogpaper

      Given that Russell is clearly arguing for laissez-faire, I can’t see how this is relevant, Guy.

      The second part (“city hall”) only applies in an interventionist economic system. The first part (“conspiracy”) is wrong altogether. The consumer is not “willing to put up with” lower quality for a lower price, he demonstrates that he prefers one product over another. And if the consumers prefer x to y when y costs more to produce than x, producing y rather than x is a waste of scarce resources. It is not a conspiracy, it is a rational response to market signals.

      • therealguyfaux

        Well, subtlety killed the rhetoric star.

        My point was that a certain conditioning takes place in which people are predisposed to want to buy something which in truth they do not need. A “hypnopaedia” of sorts not unlike something out of Huxley gets them to consume, rather than save. A Keynesian mindset that it is more important to spend than to save, in order that the economy not grind to a screeching halt plays into this– “Do you want others to buy your product/service while you do not buy theirs? Who’d want to produce, under that line of reasoning?” And then, a parade-of-horribles Paradox of Thrift deflation scenario is trotted out.

        I agree with Russell. My point is that when you play the Shame Game and ask people to consume, as opposed to refraining from consumption, merely so others can have a living, you are academically in Bastiat, and in popular culture, the Abbott & Costello “Mustard” sketch, territory. It is obviously in the State’s interest that you do so, since, to them, pace Benjamin Franklin, a penny spent is a portion of a penny earned– by them, when the transaction is taxed, both in at-point-of-sale and in income terms.

        Of course there is no conspiracy-as-such– it was an allusion to the old Adam Smith line about how businesspeople in a field of endeavor never congregate without talking shop and comparing notes as to how well they’ve convinced the public to go along with what they’re doing, after which follow-my-leader ensues.

        It was the City Hall point I was more exercised about. Obviously to maintain a tax base in their bailiwicks, and to secure campaign contributions, politicians become beholden to certain business interests. (Wasn’t it some American Senator from the State of Washington who was referred to as being “the Hon. Senator from Boeing”?) And as such, favours are spread both ways, with the awarding of governmental contracts where the bidding process is set up so that the little fellow who has not paid the shakedown money in campaign contributions finds that the requirements to receive such contracts are set in such a way as to keep him out of the running. From a practical standpoint, his finances being more precarious, he may need to have the assurance and stability a governmental contract provides more so than does the big fellow. This may make all the difference in his ultimate profitability, the way things stand now.

        The point is that interference in the marketplace is a direct-proportion function to the size of the State. The distortions so created carry over into the general-public private-citizens’ dealings in that same marketplace. With less corporate “Gubmint Cheese” to be chased, there would be less distortion, and the market could operate at something more approximating Russell’s ideal. With less Big-Anything, state or private, the Hobsonian “You’ll take what we give you and you’ll like it, mate!” gains less traction. Hence, less Creeping Meatballism engendering a what-can-anyone-do-about-it-besides-laugh-at-it-it’s-better-than-crying sort of resignation in the Night People.

        If I’m still missing something here, tell me.

        • Rocco @Bogpaper

          There is no difference between a want and a need. There is no meaningful way to distinguish between the two. There are only preferences that individuals demonstrate through their actions.

          What consumers “in truth need” means “what I think they should want.”

          • therealguyfaux

            I “want” a million quid if I can get it. I “need” enough for next month’s rent. And that works just the same on the property owner’s side of the equation. That’s a meaningful difference. In terms of the satisfaction of demand by the supplier, in theory there should be perfect indifference between the two, cash on the nail.

            What do I care WHY you are buying what I’m selling, as far as its being want or need? But the cheesemonger’s shop is going to be busier than the chalkmonger’s when the economy is straitened, as a result of people’s inability to metabolise chalk as easily in its usual form. Don’t get me wrong– I do not argue that the cheesemonger should therefore be more highly regulated that the chalkmonger. But there are preferences people will have for how they spend their money that are a bit, shall we say, more basic than others.

            And when it’s “Gubmint Cheese,” the queue of consumers either as benefits recipients from, or vendors to, the State is never a short one, is it? But the State deciding who if any may have the cheese is the problem, when it is a rather large question being begged that they should provide any cheese at all.

            Again, tell me where I’m off target, if you think I am.

          • Rocco @Bogpaper

            You would prefer to have enough money to pay next months rent, rather than not having enough. There is no necessity for you to carry on living there, only your preference to do so.

            There is no necessity for anyone to prefer cheese to chalk; eating to starving; life to death.

          • therealguyfaux

            Get all existential on me.

          • Rocco @Bogpaper

            The point is that by “needs” people mean desires that rank higher on the individual’s scale of values than “wants”. But the only way we can know anything about an individual’s scale of values is when he demonstrates his preference for one thing over another in the act of choosing. As “needs” and “wants” are simply desires, and as the strongest expression of a desire is to act, a “pressing need” and a “mere want” cannot be distinguished.

            Therefore, saying consumers don’t want the products they buy, is demonstrably false; saying they don’t need the things they buy is both demonstrably false, and – usually – a sign that the speaker wishes to impose his desires on the consumers.

          • Russell Taylor

            There’s a related argument I could make for why advertising is a wonderful thing.

  • silverminer

    I worked out the other day that I could send my kids to a very nice little private school (primary) with 20 in a class and an individually tailored curriculum for each pupil, for less than the State spends per head on primary education. What a mess they’ve made of the education system! Where is all the money going?! Middlemen skimming bureaucrats that’s who. This is worth a read:-

    Check out the link near the end about American heath care in the 1950s. Compare this to the Obamacare fiasco…or the “get what you’re given” NHS.

    If we stopped paying taxes and the bankers (as all the “debts” are fraudulent) the whole thing would collapse almost over night. There aren’t enough police, courts or prisons for them to do a damn thing about it. We could just start paying fees to the schools direct and just pay a bill when we leave the hospital. Like things used to be, nothing very radical about it. Everything would just keep going but without the Middlemen skimmers.