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The British dream

You know, unlike my proprietor, I’m beginning to warm to Transylvania’s very own Michael Howard. But he just keeps failing to take his own thoughts to a natural logical conclusion.

After an ideologically mixed start, particularly with his comments about drugs, and support for his mini-me, David Blunkett, he’s still just coming out with platitudes, rather than policies, particularly with his speech yesterday entitled, The British Dream:

Too many are cheated of the decent education that is essential for people to make the best of their lives. Too many are cheated of the first class health care that they deserve. Why? Because we have a State that does too much, that interferes too much, that is too unaccountable.

No Michael, it doesn’t interfere too much. It just interferes. If more government can’t improve a situation, then surely less government is even better. And where does this logically end up? With no government at all.

Extravagant promises about what government can achieve have not been honoured. Not through bad faith on the part of politicians. But simply because central government action cannot deliver the improvements, the growth in control over their own lives, that people rightly desire.

Yes, it’s good that a senior British politician can dare broach the principle that governments are incapable of delivering improvements to people’s lives, even if its advocates believe it can. But how can anybody, even a genius like your good self, draw the magic line where some government involvement is good, whereas more or less government involvement is bad? You can’t. It is all just bad.

People who start businesses are big people, every single one of them. Their enterprise and readiness to take risks are the engine of our progress. We need them to succeed.

Yes, Michael. But how exactly are you going to help self-employed tax-serfs, such as myself? Are you going to abolish IR35? Are you going to cut corporation tax? Which deadening business regulations are you going to cut? Come on Michael, heart-on-your-sleeve stuff is great. But one might suspect that you’re not actually going to cut any taxes at all, just make reasonable noises about it.

We want the total regulatory burden imposed by government to fall each year

Good. Tell you what; let’s scrap an entire government department every six months in the most boondoggling order. Here’s Andy’s guide to which department gets chopped, in what order. Your own mileage may vary:

  • Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (immediate cut)
  • Department of Trade and Industry (immediate cut)
  • Department for International Development (immediate cut)
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport (immediate cut)
  • Department for Transport
  • Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • Department for Work and Pensions
  • Department of Health
  • Department for Education & Skills
  • Cabinet Office
  • Department for Constitutional Affairs
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Home Office
  • Ministry of Defence
  • HM Treasury

Now that really would be a plan. Oh, and sell the BBC off, too.

In many schools a disruptive minority have been allowed to hold back the majority eager to progress. So our first priority will be to restore to teachers unambiguous control over the classroom. Heads must have the final say over expulsions.

I’ve suffered the misfortune of having to throw occasional students out of my classes, in the past, and it is never easy. How anyone can teach, at all, without having this nuclear option up their sleeve, really does amaze me. But how is allowing headmasters the right to expel troublesome pupils going to make everything suddenly all that much better? How about we privatise every school, instead, and shut down all those cosy rent-seeking rats’ nests in the Local Education Authorities? Oh, and perhaps if we must have an interim state system, we can allow the sacking of rubbish teachers, too? Has any teacher in the UK state education system ever been sacked for their inability to teach? There must be at least one to prove the rule. Oh yes, that’s right. She became Secretary of State for Education. I remember now.

Why should any of us put up with a [health] system in which our families, our friends, my constituents, die from illnesses which would not kill them if they came from countries not far away from us? So we will bring reform. We will be open-minded and learn from systems that work well on the continent. We will give control to patients.

What an extremist policy, giving health care control to the patients, no doubt via some kind of disgusting marketplace? It’s a shame that in 18 years of conservative government you never got round to this yourself, but maybe you’ll make it up to us next time, should there ever be a next time.

There are countless examples of people from humble beginnings who make it to the top: who live the British Dream. So we should talk about it. We should embrace it. We should celebrate it. I want everyone to live the British Dream.

Do you have anyone particular in mind, who you wish to make it to the top, from such humble beginnings? And why do such rhetorical statements always have to be framed in a pyramid of power, with natural leaders at the top, and peasants like me underneath propping it all up? I’d rather be at the top of my own personal pyramid, thanks.

But there is hope. You could hire me as a speechwriter! Here’s a little something to tempt you with, straight off the cuff:

I have a British dream. By the end of the first parliament under my government we will have abolished all forms of national insurance. We will have halved council taxes. We will have abolished the top rate of income tax. We will have abolished corporation tax. Every rent-seeking state-employed collectivist in Britain will either be in fear of losing their cushy number or will already be sacked and doing something productive for a change. However, subsidies will still remain available for certain speechwriters to take study tours to Hollywood, to carry out long intensive interviews with film actress Penelope Cruz.

Now these are policies I could really vote for. Particularly that last one.

15 comments to The British dream

  • Guy Herbert

    Your proprietor? would that be some bizarre anarcho-capitalist concept of God?

    Meanwhile on earth, I wouldn’t run my first administration quite like you; though my Open Britain is at least as remote a possibility as your Hoppe-d Up Heaven. Rather than a wild wish-list, I suggest what’s currently needful are some plausible transitional demands (as the Trotskyists of yore would have it)–or marketable policy options (as they are known to their more formidable successors).

  • Andy Duncan

    Your proprietor? would that be some bizarre anarcho-capitalist concept of God?

    Well, I’ve never heard of Mr Perry de Havilland described in those terms before, but it does sound like a rather accurate description! ;-)

    As to your other points, I’m a great believe in Uncle Murray’s various strategies for gaining Libertania, which you can read here, a strategy in which I hope Samizdata plays a part.

  • If more government can’t improve a situation, then surely less government is even better. And where does this logically end up? With no government at all.

    Your proposition fails the substitution test for anything for which it is possible to have too much and too little of – rain, vitamin D, car engine power, etc, etc.

    Fallacy.

  • I was in the audience for this speech (at the very jazzy Bloomberg offices), it was workman-like. Some of the rhetoric was very attractive, Mr Howard said his ambition was to reduce the size of the state, slash red tape burdens – and aim for lower taxes.

    “There is a moral reason for government to take less from people in taxation…low taxes give people the opportunity to make their own decisions. I want to see lower taxes, less government bureaucracy, less waste, and a simpler more transparent tax system,”

    Amen.

    A lot of anti-statist sentiment abounded:

    “We have a State that does too much, that interferes too much, that is too unaccountable. A State that has grown so much that it diminishes the people it is meant to serve.”

    and

    “the people should be big and the state should be small.”

    and

    “In attempting to try and solve problems, government creates new ones. All too often government is the cause of our problems not the solution to them… I will tell you today, in all honesty and as starkly as I am able to, that the size and scope of government in this country – and the means of its financing by the people through taxation – is quite simply too big.

    Howard apparently believes:

    My belief in small government is not some academic exercise. Only when the State is small will people be big. It is a means to an end, and that end is opportunity, giving people power to control and run their lives as they see fit.

    Government often runs as if it were on a treadmill. It just carries on going and never questioning its direction.

    That era is coming to an end.

    One can hope. Howard talks the talk, whether the Tories would actually walk the walk remains to be seen. They have got to be better than that tax thieving bastard Brown.

  • Brock

    My goodness. Maybe the excessive size of the State in Britain has driven your politicians farther to the Libertarian side than anyone over here in the USA. It would be awesome if he carried through on even half of that.

    Rich is right though, just because less government is good does not mean that no government is better. There will probably never be complete agreement on the ‘right’ amount, but it’s certainly not zero.

    Just remember, for every 10 entrepreneurs who want to sell the better mouse trap, there’s an entrepreneur named Al Capone. Against such organized violence and repression no private actor can prevail. And even ‘good’ entrepreneurs, like Rockefeller, can go bad when they get too powerful. He put people out of business not by offering lower prices or better products- he did by cheating. Once again, only the State can take care of things like that.

    That being said, Howard’s right. As it, it’s too big. Good luck in getting some reform over there. Britain and America often take turns setting a good example for each other – here’s hoping you can do it again soon.

  • Andy Duncan

    Rich writes:

    Your proposition fails the substitution test for anything for which it is possible to have too much and too little of – rain, vitamin D, car engine power, etc, etc.

    Oh come on, Rich. Tell you what, let’s replace it with a smaller-scale government-type organisation, and replay the basic theme.

    We need to reduce the scope of Mafia involvement, in Mafia-provided education of our children. That we need some Mafia involvement is obvious, as nature abhors a power vacuum, and the Mafia will ensure that even the poorest of the parish get an education, despite the selfishness of our better-off local businesses and their families. But we perhaps have too much Mafia involvement at the moment, in the provision of education services, and it is beginning to be too corrupting. We should reduce it somewhat, to a level where Mafia involvement is acceptable to most parents, and less corrupting.

    Which particular substitution test does that fail?

  • Andy Duncan

    paul d s writes:

    Some of the rhetoric was very attractive, Mr Howard said his ambition was to reduce the size of the state, slash red tape burdens – and aim for lower taxes.

    Well, this is why I’m warming to the guy, even at the risk of deluding myself that UK politicians are anything other than entirely selfish. But why is it that when he says something sensible, that marijuana should either be legal or illegal, not some stupid grey area in-between, that he chooses illegal? Why do the British state, and all of its aspiring caretaker kings, hate victimless crimes so much?

    Just why is Mr Howard so clever that he can tell me that I cannot smoke marijuana for my own good? Am I so stupid compared to his magnificence?

    And no, I don’t actually smoke marijuana. Because I think doing so is a really stupid thing to do. But I’ll defend everyone else’s right to smoke this weed, risking all sorts of memory problems and brain dysfunction, because each person should be the master of their own lives. Not Michael Howard.

    BTW, to the makers of Samuel Adams, one of the finest beers in the world. That’s top quality stuff. But I only say that because Samuel Adams is good for you, causing absolutely no memory loss…..errrr….. at …., oh yes, at all.

  • Wild Pegasus

    Well, I’ve never heard of Mr Perry de Havilland described in those terms before, but it does sound like a rather accurate description! ;-)

    I thought the blog originally said, “The editors are God and God moves in mysterious ways.” =)

    ObTopic: Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!

    – Josh

  • Andy Duncan

    Brock writes:

    Rich is right though, just because less government is good does not mean that no government is better. There will probably never be complete agreement on the ‘right’ amount, but it’s certainly not zero.

    Yes, Brock, but that’s the exact problem, isn’t it? What is the right amount of government? Do you know? Can you define it for me? Is it 21.74% of GDP? Is it 47.31% of GDP? Is it 17.12% of GDP? What exactly is it? What is the magic formula? Did Mr Laffer work it out with his curve?

    Or as the communists would have it, excluding all of the black market food production which kept the buggers going for 70 years in the Soviet Union, is it 100%?

    Or do 51% of voters, in any arbitrarily defined area, know the right percentage?

    Or are ‘extremist’ Austro-libertarians like myself correct, with a correct percentage of 0%?

    Either government is good, and therefore we should have more of it, or government is bad, therefore we should have less of it.

    It’s going to go one way or the other, over the next couple of centuries, as we work our way through this post-Medieval flux. One route is towards the death of us all. The other route is towards the future prosperity, wealth, and happiness, of the whole of humanity.

    Guess which option my money is on! :-)

  • Just remember, for every 10 entrepreneurs who want to sell the better mouse trap, there’s an entrepreneur named Al Capone. Against such organized violence and repression no private actor can prevail. And even ‘good’ entrepreneurs, like Rockefeller, can go bad when they get too powerful. He put people out of business not by offering lower prices or better products- he did by cheating. Once again, only the State can take care of things like that.

    What’s the difference between Al Capone and Tony Blair? The brand of suit they wear.

  • Oh come on, Rich. Tell you what, let’s replace it with a smaller-scale government-type organisation, and replay the basic theme.

    All this may be so, Andy. No doubt there are arguments that would support your point. My simple point is that this particular argument doesn’t.

  • Andy Duncan

    Rich writes:

    All this may be so, Andy. No doubt there are arguments that would support your point. My simple point is that this particular argument doesn’t.

    Which would indicate (I hope) that you’re a Minarchist, a believer in a limited form of government, a REALLY limited form of government, perhaps one constrained by a constitution (unwritten or otherwise), to only provide defence services (army, police, courts, jails, law-finding bodies, etc).

    Minarchism is a great place to be, one I spent a long time in myself. Even Ayn Rand, one of my greatest heroines, was a Minarchist, believing in the sanctity of the State for defence services. Even Ludwig von Mises, the GREATEST man who ever lived, was a Minarchist. Even Adam Smith, the SECOND greatest man who ever lived, was a Minarchist. And thank God for them both.

    But to believe in Minarchism is to hold two mutually exclusive views:

    First: Every “monopoly” is “bad” from the viewpoint of consumers. Monopoly here is understood in its classical sense as an exclusive privilege granted to a single producer of a commodity or service; i.e., as the absence of “free entry” into a particular line of production. In other words, only one agency, A, may produce a given good, X. Any such monopolist is “bad” for consumers because, shielded from potential new entrants into his area of production, the price of his product X will be higher and the quality of X lower than otherwise.

    Second: The production of security must be undertaken by and is the primary function of government. Here, security is understood in the wide sense adopted in the Declaration of Independence: as the protection of life, property (liberty), and the pursuit of happiness from domestic violence (crime) as well as external (foreign) aggression (war). In accordance with generally accepted terminology, government is defined as a territorial monopoly of law and order (the ultimate decision maker and enforcer).

    You can read much more about these two views, here.

    Personally, I can no longer hold the second proposition in my mind. The first one has kicked it out, particularly as if you believe in the second one, constitutions of any flavour will fail to protect you from the predations of the denizens in charge of your minimalist state. They will continually seek to augment their powers, however you constrain them, until as here in the UK, it is down to a government official what kind of windows I’m allowed to buy, and down to another government official, what kind of vitamin supplements I’m allowed to buy.

    Despite anarcho-capitalist origins, and despite one of the most beautifully worded constitutions that will ever be written in the history of mankind, the US is now a federal monster, where state power grows every day like Topsy. I’m afraid the American experiment has failed. Limited constitutional government was a utopian dream, which ended where all such utopias end, in the omnipotence of central government power in every area of your life, which will continue to ratchet towards totalitarianism with every grinding deficit-ridden day that passes. Anyone for an intimate body search, and genetic fingerprinting, at a police station near you?

    The only way to combat the growth of limited government is not to write shreddable constitutions, guarded by agents of the very same government that the constitution is trying to protect you from. It is to seek the absolute removal of every aspect of government from our lives.

    You cannot lock this beast in a cage. You can only wipe it out, and then keep wiping it out every time it re-emerges.

    How? God knows.

    I’m still working that monkey out! :-)

    But there’s some cracking stuff here, about it.

  • Rob Read

    It really annoys me to see you lot rearranging the deck-chairs on the titanic, about the contradictions in minarchism.

    The thing is that minarchism is a WHOLE lot better than the state slavery we live in at the moment. We should all be looking into “How we can win the arguments in the greater public?”, because democracy (majoritarianism) is the current ascendant and thus get towards a better state.

    We should know by know that what politicos say they will do and what they actually do are two orthagonal things. How can we get to hold Howard to his words?

  • It really annoys me to see you lot rearranging the deck-chairs on the titanic, about the contradictions in minarchism.

    Seems to me that Andy’s innocent comment in the original is the victim of the rearranging of the deck chairs. It’s the minarchists who get all up in arms at even the slightest mention of the notion that perhaps all govt needs to go.

  • Andy Duncan

    Rob Read writes:

    How can we get to hold Howard to his words?

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, Rob. How do we get Howard to hold to his word? How do we write a constitution which actually does constrain a government? How do we get democracy to work?

    Rob, we can’t. That’s it. End of story. We can’t. Been there, tried it, got the T-shirt. We can’t.

    I think you may be ready for the big one. Read it, before you condemn it:

    Democracy: The God that Failed