The other day I had a pub conversation with a friend that went as rapidly from, “I favour reducing the size of the state” to “but poor people will starve” as any such conversation I’ve had before. There are certain things, such as roads, schools, health and welfare, that are so strongly connected in people’s minds to the state that intelligent thought about them is almost impossible. I wonder how this happens. It means that no shortcuts are possible. To be understood, you have to assume no shared knowledge with your interlocutor and start again from first principles. But this does not work well in a pub conversation or, for that matter, in a TV interview.
At one point I was told, “if you got your way, I would emigrate.” My friend was imagining a dystopian hell on Earth, which suggests, among other things, I had not properly made my motives understood. There is a tendency to assume that one’s political opponents want to enrich themselves at the expense of others. This may be a good assumption a lot of the time. When a socialist suggests taxing the rich to give to the poor, I might wonder how much he will cream off the top for himself. When I suggest that taxes should be reduced, it is obviously because I do not like paying tax and I am prepared to let poor people starve so that I can buy more gadgets. The universe is a zero-sum game: what else could I possibly mean?
So I need to spell out explicitly what it is that I want, because it turns out that it does not go without saying: everyone to be much richer, so that necessities and most luxuries are almost free; vastly increased life expectancy and improved health; less overall time spent on menial tasks and more time spent doing interesting things; in general more wealth, opportunities and happiness for all.
I know how to get there, too. A smaller state means faster economic growth. Nothing I want breaks the laws of physics, so the technology is just a matter of time and leaving people alone to get on with it.
What I want sounds to me like something that would sell. Maybe we should do what our opponents do and repeat it loudly, often and everywhere, and point out that anyone who opposes it is causing poor people to starve. It is the sort of approach that might work well in a pub conversation or, for that matter, in a TV interview.