Monday, 28 May 2012

Democracy Doesn't Work - Vol 2

Welcome back to Democracy Doesn't Work, the gameshow in which an audience get to vote on all the issues discussed, but that vote means absolutely nothing.

Here's the link to Vol 1 in case you missed it or (god forbid) want to read it again.

Oh, the things people do to be popular. Back in the day this bunny cared far too much and was practically obsessed with the notion of whether he was popular or otherwise. One needs to mature before realising that it really isn't nearly as important as being an individual of substance, or being right every now and then. It's a work in progress but this bunny's neurosis is channelled in an altogether more healthy direction these days.

To some people, being the good guy is a fix that they never quite shake. Upon realising that we had a three-parter in the pipeline I went off on some most perculiar trains of thought and an episode from many years ago sprang to mind as significant to the general theme. I was nearly nineteen, still living with my parents and had just started my first 'proper job'. Cash in the back-burner was a new experience so one payday I bought a bottle of Scotch on the way home.

Now in that situation, it's always wise to 'rope in' the authority figure by inviting them to have a couple themselves. They are then tainted by the whole thing so cannot have a pop at you for drinking the rest and getting slightly pissed (little tip there for any young people looking to negotiate the issue of alcohol with their parents). Anyway, my sister, seven years old at the time, had one of those fits along the lines of "somebody else can't have something without me having it too". It's what children do, yeah?

Anyway, I politely explain why I'm not going to load a seven year old on 40% spirits. She wails, she cries and questions my parentage (ironic really since they were stood right in front of me). In response, my dad walks into the kitchen and pours her a measure of the scotch, my scotch that was not his to take. He comes out of that scenario as the hero, this bunny as some cold-hearted piece of shit - and I paid for it. Nicely done...

The serious point is:- this is what wanting to be the good guy, at least in relative terms to someone else, does to those seeking popularity. It forces them to take steps that are reckless, unaffordable and require the theft of another person's money. We've had a gradual slide towards the position we are in now, where very tough and immensely unpopular decisions have become an absolute and immediate necessity. Yet if you'd watched the television debates before the last election, all three parties were promising to spend vast quantities of the stuff that they conclusively knew not to exist (of course Liam Byrne famously left a note to that effect at the Treasury, so must have known his party's manifesto was profoundly dishonest).

Remember the ridiculous argument about the phantom £6 billion that was officially the plot of land over which the whole fiscal argument was fought? This bunny suspects that most of us knew this stuff to be nonsense, but there was this strange sort of telepathy going on between the various candidates and ordinary voters. The democratic race to a workable majority creates a strange world in which none of us admit the reality, let alone dare to confront it until things get out of control. It's a bit like that thing where you go to a cashpoint and dare not check your balance.

£20 cash, sir - would you like a receipt with that?

To be honest - no I'll just keep pretending I'm actually loaded - until I run out of money anyway. Then I'll either panic, go into prostitution, or give Mickey Thomas a call - that's if his machine hasn't got a full orderbook from the government...

Politics of course attracts all of the wrong kinds of people and representative democracy puts these vultures in a place where the choice is often between recklessness with other people's money or electoral wipeout. The bank bailouts could not be afforded, while the obscenity of public sector pensions has been a ticking timebomb for two decades and counting. Rewards for failure, final salary pensions for anyone working in the right place at the right time, plod retires at 50 and can collect his pension for longer than he actually worked. How the fuck does that compute with reality?

Still, everyone's a winner, eh?. If we run out of money, we can always print some more...

Some of the issues here are not just about politics or winning elections - both major parties have serious financial problems, having spent money they didn't have on tedious election campaigns that chewed up their resources. Labour need their union chums while both dud parties had the begging bowl out in the city back when the times were good, Upsetting these powerful client groups (covered in Vol 1) is never a smart move in a democracy, and when these are also your paymasters then it makes commercial sense to let them call at least some of the shots.

The founding fathers of the USA figured out that a democracy would only work until people discovered they had the ability to vote themselves a little extra from the treasury. Once this happened you'd see a one-way ratchet where the government's slice of the cake would gradually increase as they sought to bribe voters with their own, or somebody else's money. Finding out that you have the legal means to steal from someone else probably produces the same rush that you would get from drinking, smoking or masturbating for the first time. It's exciing, empowering and you wanna do it again, but preferably in the privacy of a polling booth.

Secret Ballots (which are of course a good thing in isolation) enable you to walk past somebody on election day, weigh up that he might have more money than yourself and then elect that a slice of it travels from his bank account and into yours. Aside from the money itself, it's not in the interest of any candidate standing for election to take that power away from you. Reversing this spiral of taxpayer funded largesse is so unpopular as to make it practically impossible, since the mob rule of democracy means that 'empowerment' comes at the expense of someone else.

But what about Thatcher? Did she not buck the trend and roll back the frontiers of the state when she was in office? Isn't that why she's both worshipped and hated in equal measure? Not quite. The 'Thatcher smashed the State' myth is simply that, perpetuated by both sides as a matter of convenience over the years. Government spending soared, and while nanny's take of the national share fell ever so slightly during Thatch's eleven years in office, this was actually funded by a trebling of the national debt in the same period.

There was also the small matter of some 2 million people, moved off unemployment benefit and onto long-term sickness solely for political reasons. 3 million unemployed sounds like utter failure. but then how about 5 million? The tough choice would of course have been to accept and then deal with it, but then Thatch made far fewer of those than both her admirers and enemies would have you believe (I know John B will be on to argue the opposing case and look forward to that debate).

So instead of sustaining government largesse through taxation, Thatch did it by borrowing, therefore keeping the tax rate for the current generation down. One of her election victories was of course against Michael Foot, co-author of 'the longest suicide note in history' in 1983. Now Foot was wrong about just about everything and even when he turned out to be right it was either by accident or for the wrong reasons. However, he was probably the last serious Uk politician to work on the Henry Clay principle of "I'd rather be right than be president".

The rule of 51 per cent clearly held no sway with him, and while 'right' in his case was actually wrong, Foot was at least sincerely wrong. In a curious way, I can't help but admire that. His case is interesting for two reasons - firstly, the wish to have a more cordial relationship with the Soviet Union was political dynamite back in 1983, but he stated this openly and took a hammering rather than adopt a more 'acceptable' position. Much could be said about some other Labour policies at the time, such as their pledge to work towards nuclear disarmament - it really was suicide, but more in the 'honourable' tradition of Japanese soldiers circa 1944 than anything vulgar.

Then there's this curious paradox about confirmed 'tax and spend' politicians. Although that's the type of economy we have clearly moved towards since 1945, there seems to be this nominal suspicion about anyone who is honest enough to admit that they will continue the trend, as if that somehow makes them 'dangerous'. To win an election, Tony Blair promised anyone who would listen that he would increase the size of the state to exciting new levels while raising not a penny of the money required by increasing an existing tax or inventing new ones. Everyone knew this to be a blatant lie and yet we all remember the Tory wipeout of 1997, the fake spontaneous demonstration that followed, the techno-cheese of D-Ream and all that.

When the pips started squeaking and they ran out of new taxes to invent, Labour borrowed on an industrial scale again - it's what Labour governments (and some Tory ones) always, always do until they finally run out of money. Most of us know this, and yet it seems that the big government-representative democracy combo has this strange ability to infantilise and delude people that "this time it's going to be different", as if the country is a mass of beaten wives desparate to believe that their abusive spouse really has changed...this time. To use another analogy, these are the people who, upon receiving a 'YOU'VE WON £10,000' coupon through the front door, actually ring up and give their credit card number.

A cocktail of greed and stupidity rarely ends with sexy results - bogus roofers, Nigerian phone scams, 'YOU'VE WON £10,000" texts and coupons, politicians on the doorstep. They were taken in by all of them.

Almost everyone accepts the need for government spending to be cut, as long as those reductions come in areas that don't directly impact their own lives. By the same token - "yeah, put taxes up, as long as they aren't ours. Hey, what about that guy up the road who earns more than we do, there's only one of him and there are loads of us - lets mug him, legally mind you". After the last election, I grew sick and tired of public sector employees crowing to third rate BBC hacks about how they and their place of work was a special case and any attempt to bring spending on that area back in kilter with reality would be 'savage'.

The truth is, everyone thinks they're a special case.

In a democracy, everyone can be - it's whiskey all round, even for the kids. Don't worry, someone else is paying, just as 'someone else' always does...

Meanwhile, the deficit is racking up, the economy is moving at the same pace that old people fuck and we keep hearing from the Bullingdon clan that 'tough choices' are necessary. Trouble is, when the cost of being right is a one way trip into Michael Foot-esque oblivion, who is going to make them?

Part 3 of 'Democracy Doesn't Work' to follow soon. Take care and thanks for reading.

4 comments:

  1. Brilliant post Daz, and a great follow-on to the last one. I won't sit and dissect your post, I'd rather just add a comment on something you said near the end. You said: 'Almost everyone accepts the need for government spending to be cut, as long as those reductions come in areas that don't directly impact their own lives.' Yep, absolutely true. If it's plebs at the bottom, oh well we can cut their funding all day long and nobody bats an eyelid. If it's private schools or 'privatised' industries like the railways getting huge subsidies to do, IMHO, fuckall, then that's a different matter altogether.

    And you wrote: 'The truth is, everyone thinks they're a special case.' Yes, this is also true. We are all hoping to be spared the cutter.

    You know, you have a knack of opening up really good debate; this is what real politics should be doing, instead of the pantomime we have at the moment. It may turn out that this meltdown is worse than we are expecting, and yet... it may not be so bad after all. I personally think that times like this should give us pause, we should reflect on what is important in life; our health, our happiness, good friendships, the ability itself just to enjoy simple things that don't necessarily cost us lots of money; or maybe I am being too naive?

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  2. Thanks again TC.

    I don't go in for this whole rich = bad and poor = good argument or the opposite one that is pushed by some, since the question is one of principle and common sense rather than favouring one group of society over another. This is one of the reasons our politics fails, because parties serve as agents of clients, interest groups and those that fund them, rather than taking a balanced but coherent view of the world.

    Are bank bailouts wrong? Yes, let them starve. That was easy.

    If you privatise something, is one of the great advantages not supposed to be that the taxpayer is taken out of the game? Yes, and the Tories rushed them through solely to balance that year's books - they were desparate to buy a few votes just before 1997 and you'll see there was a glut of botched privatisations from 1995 onwards. Coincidence? Make up your own mind.

    They made a few people enormously wealthy on the back of taxpayer subsidy when the whole ethos of private enterprise and competition is that it's supposed to be the little consumer who is in charge, not some parasite smoking a cigar and laughing his bollocks off. I get called a 'closet Tory' quite a bit and it really isn't true!!

    But turn this on its head for a minute. Is it right that cops - rank and file, CID, chief super or lowly PC, get to retire at 50 and enjoy a better pension than you and me, largely at our expense? Is it right that Labour trebled NHS spending but got nothing relative to that in terms of improved results? Or that more managers and pen-pushers were hired by successive governments than nurses, firefighters etc?

    Tragically, cuts tend to hit those doing something useful since it's the middle management non-job types who invariably decide where the axe falls. Turkeys don't vote for Xmas do they?!!

    Then you have strange cases like that of students, who essentially grew up in an unsustainable system then happened to be damaged by being around when it finally imploded. I feel for the genuinely bright and able ones who we should always find a route into higher education for, but there are too many thick young adults doing nonsense degrees. This is an unavoidable fact.

    They say that quality of life is about much more than money. This is true to an extent, but it tends to be the most wealthy who say this louder than anyone - so I often wonder how the hell they would know. Provided you have the means to live and not be constantly worrying about bills then I'd agree with you. Beyond a certain level of income, a bit more dough really makes next to no difference in terms of how happy or otherwise someone is.

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  3. Politics is not really my beat.
    I am interested in reality. Insofar as politics is an indicator of where people really are at, such as their desire to boss each other around and the excuses they make for doing that, it interests me.
    What I saw in the late 1970s was that Britain was heading for a collectivised nightmare in which everybody was in awe of and terrified of the unions. It was generally accepted by the likes of the Confederation of British Industry that you did not seriously challenge union power.
    It was a time when Marxist policies and KGB front organisations were taking control. (And now they, or their direct descendants, are back, by the way, re-writing history.)
    There was a move to challenge this among ordinary folk that led to the strike breaking at Grunwick film laboratories, and other similar actions.
    The actions taken by those who challenged the collectivist narrative was not perfect.
    Zimbabwe was sold into slavery, as you have noted.
    Compromise began creeping in even as soon as the move away from collectivised dictatorship was beginning.
    But a general trend away from a slave mentality was achieved.
    Chapman Pincher's wrote books partially exposing how close Britain had come to defeat much to the hatred and dismay of the traitors within.
    There was a global move away from collectivist control.
    Reagan was elected in America. A conservative Pope was elected. And Thatcher in Britain.

    It was a time of war when partial freedom was bought and undermined, but at least the principle was expressed.

    It is now being swiftly buried again.

    Wake up bunnies before the trap closes!

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  4. Hi John - thanks for the considered reply.

    I take your point about politics being about a lot more than what happened statistically at the time. It's like they say a great batsman or bowler is about more than how many runs or wickets he got - it's when and how he got them, and the general mood that was created around that player with the general public.

    In the 80s, of course self-ownership, starting your own business, owning your own house etc became something that more people felt they had a 'right' to if they were prepared to put in the work.

    Unions in the private sector were cut down to a more realistic size, but those that remained within state functions were untouched. The two now resemble completely different worlds and are essentially a by-product of half a job being done in the 1980s.

    Reaganomics and Thatcherism were more good than bad, but then at the same time both were funded by regular budget deficits. The proceeds of privatisation sell-offs in the 1980s were being used not to chip away at debt, but to balance that year's budget.

    This can only be described as crazy.

    Socially, both Reagan and Thatch were seriously authoritarian. I can't speak for 'the Quayle' but over here we had members of the government who were openly racist or homophobic.

    If you were black or gay in that era, would you feel more or less free? Being white and straight I wouldn't know, but it's worth asking.

    Both undeniably did some good things, but then we might be back to the original question. Had the Tories started to dismantle the NHS monopoly in the 1980s, would they have become unelectable?

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