Mark Steyn has been in London, and although his visit has coincided with truly wonderful weather – I have spent a great afternoon with my wife and friends eating good food on the side of the Thames in Richmond – it has also been a time of protest:
“In a democracy, there are not many easy ways back from insane levels of “social” spending, and certainly not when the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition panders to the mob by comparing them to anti-apartheid activists. Judging from the many marchers partial to robotic, pseudo-ethnic West African drumming, the British left’s plan is presumably for the entire country to relaunch itself as the world’s least rhythmic percussion ensemble.”
This denial of reality is everywhere. Consider this YouTube spot featuring Mark Littlewood, head honcho of the Institute of Economic Affairs (and a friend of mine) alongside some hard-leftist type who regards the mass protests yesterday as an example of the Labour movement “striking back”. As far as this guy is concerned, our national debt is relatively low (seriously), we can, somehow or other, grow our way out of any problems that might exist, etc. In fairness to the BBC interviewer, she did not let this guy make these points without challenge and I thought Mark acquitted himself well. A good, perhaps “soft” point to make here, as Mark did, is the “think of the children” angle. The protesters who want to protect final-salary public pensions, vast numbers of state jobs, etc, are choosing to do so regardless of the debt being loaded on the shoulders of future generations. And in their adolescent fantasies, they imagine that all the mess can be somehow put right by taxing the evil rich bankers. There is, in this worldview, a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, usually located in a tax haven. But what these folk don’t seen to understand, or perhaps, don’t want to understand, is that taxing banks even more means lower savings rates, higher borrowing charges, worse service, lower investments. If we drive sources of capital away, as happened in the 1970s, then does this young activist really believe that will benefit the more vulnerable people in this country in the medium-term? I suspect he either does not care or imagines that somehow, something will turn up.
This mindset does not come out of thin air. The activist was trotting out the standard, dreary line about how all the things he imagines are good (and I regard as thoroughly bad), such as comprehensive state schooling, socialised medicine and Big Government, arose even when Britain was broke after WW2. Arguably, these developments ensured we stayed thoroughly broke, right up until the 1970s when the UK was, humiliatingly, bailed out by the IMF. As Mrs Thatcher said, in the end, socialists always run out of other people’s money.
A difficulty for any government is that once the drug of state dependency has been created, it is a long, hard road back to sanity. I don’t like this government, which is hardly close to my own classical liberal worldview, but some measure of credit is due here. A larger chunk of voters than is perhaps realised have no conception of self reliance, independence, or a desire for said.
Many voters have been clients of the state all their lives; changing that will be enormously difficult. Whole cities, such as in the north of the UK and pockets elsewhere, derive the bulk of their incomes from taxpayers in the more prosperous parts of the UK. Londoners are a fairly stoical lot, but we are getting a bit tired of folk coming to the capital, trashing it, and demanding that this evil den of capitalism should go on providing them with the lifestyle to which they think they are entitled. Maybe London should declare itself an independent state and we’ll see how well the rest of the UK can cope without this high finance. The Atlas Shrugged narrative continues.
Independence for London. Hmm, there have been worse slogans.