Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Political Narrative as I understand it

Following WWII there was something called the post war consensus. This involved something called Keynesianism.

Keynes was an economist who believed that nation states had an important part to play in the economy of a country. He said that nation states should invest in infrastructure and alter interest rates so as to minimise unemployment and keep inflation under control.

For some reason the UK didn't do so well between the late 1950s and late 1970s. I don't know why this is.

Whatever the cause, the result was inefficient, state-run industry dominated by powerful unions that enforced work practices that prevented the UK from developing economically.

Because the nation state controlled so many businesses and organisations they were more concerned with the affect of firing employees and cutting wages than with customer satisfaction and value-for-money.

This resulted in extreme economic problems in the late 1970s. This involved something called the Winter of Discontent.

Then there was Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher agreed with two people called Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. Thatcher believed in free-market solutions and privatisation of state-run companies. She believed in reducing the size of the welfare state and in the importance of the individual choices rather than the will of the collective.

She was also a monetarist. I think that means that in order to control inflation, you have to control the supply of money by controlling interest rates.

Thatcher's policies had some positive effects. The UK was no longer called "the sick man of Europe."

Thatcher also used Britain's celebrated military might to reclaim the Falkland Islands. This was probably a good thing for the inhabitants of the Falklands, and meant that patriotic Brits and Middle England started to like Margaret Thatcher.

Because of the Falklands War, and a world-wide economic boom in the late 1980s, Thatcher become very popular.

She didn't like the EU very much. I think it was because she saw it as undemocratic and wasteful.

After Thatcher and John Major there came New Labour. New Labour was basically the old Labour party but re-branded so as to be appealing to Middle England.

Middle England consists of people who want extremely high-quality public services as well as low taxes. Middle England doesn't want to be bothered by the nation state but Middle Englanders have strong moral values that they believe should be enforced on people who like to take drugs, stupid criminals, people who like to have sex with other people of their own gender, and people who are simultaneously female and professionally successful. Middle England likes prisons because they believe prisons solve crime. Middle England likes animals but doesn't like foreigners. Middle Englanders believe taking drugs is wrong, but Middle England likes beer and wine. Middle England doesn't like immigrants.

Samuel Johnson recognised the kind of people who inhabit Middle England very early on:

"There will always be a part, and always a very large part of every community, that have no care but for themselves, and whose care for themselves reaches little further than impatience of immediate pain, and eagerness for the nearest good."

Although Labour didn't like Middle England very much they needed Middle England to vote for them. New Labour adopted a lot of Tory ideas about fiscal policy, authoritarianism, and immigration, in order to appeal to Middle England.

New Labour promised to spend a lot of money on public services like the NHS, but promised not to raise taxes. They did raise indirect taxes, and they used tricks like Public Private Partnerships to raise debt but keep it off the balance sheet, and they also got into a lot of debt.

In order to put power and wealth in the hands of the many and not the few, New Labour introduced policies like family tax credits and education maintenance allowance.

This may or may not have been the largest state-backed redistribution of wealth in history.

In order to trick Middle England into voting for them New Labour had to pretend to believe in all the things Middle England believed in.

Now that Labour is unpopular, because the economy is apparently not doing so well and credit is difficult to get hold of the Media is saying that Labour is finished.

The presumption is the Tories are doing exactly what New Labour did, by tricking Middle England into voting for them they can gain power and do what they actually want.

The only difference is instead of giving money to poor people the Tories would give money to rich people.

My family receives family tax credits and I received the EMA. On the other hand my Father runs a small business. Hopefully the reduction in business rates that the Tories should introduce will offset the loss of the family tax credits.

The only two things I actually care about in politics are the creation of a sustainable and environmentally friendly society and a high standard of living and quality of life for everyone in every country on Earth.

I don't much see the point in feeling sentimentally attached to a particular country just because I happen to be born there. I am lucky to have been born in a Western liberal democracy, but I just don't see the point of patriotism.

I'm not sure what the best way of accomplishing these twin goals of environmental sustainability and global happiness. I don't know enough about economics and politics yet. However I suspect that an ideological approach is flawed.

By that I mean that instead of creating a political ideology, like Keynesianism, or Neoliberalism, and then trying to apply it to the real world. Why not just do things in a methodical way, see what works and what doesn't, and then apply the lessons you have learnt to new policy?

Obviously you'd have to base policy on empirical knowledge of economics, human behaviour, technology, politics, psychology, and heuristics.

Is suspect that the power of governments (as opposed to the state) is limited. Change is difficult and slow, and the only really big changes come from inventors, scientists, entrepreneurs, and engineers.

Politicians are mostly left to tinker around the edges and waste money on wars.

It's bad form to finish an essay with a quotation, so here's two:

"Hey, this is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes. When we have built up tyrants, we have brought them down. And we have nuclear *fucking* weapons."

-- Ken Macleod

"History is moved by big socio-economic things that individuals have no affect on. The best we can do is try to make a bit of cash.

-- Blackadder

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