He can cope with serial killers – “It’s just serial people who vote Conservative all the time I find very difficult to understand.”
This is a line from a Guardian interview with the British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith who campaigns on behalf of killers on death row. He’s clearly a very committed individual who feels passionately about injustice. But there’s one category of people, apparently, which deserves exemption from his beneficence. When asked at the talks he gives whether there’s any defendant he wouldn’t represent, he likes to reply: “Well I’m sorry, I just couldn’t represent a Tory.”
Since this point is made twice in the interview without any attempt at retraction one can only assumes he means it.
I’m not at all surprised by this: it’s the sort of thing you hear left-liberals saying about right-wing people all the time. What would surprise me much, much more would be to hear a right-wing person say such a thing about anyone on the left. Especially not one as intelligent and well-educated (Radley; Columbia University Law school) as Stafford-Smith.
And it’s not because I think those of us on the right are necessarily nicer than those on the left. It’s just that we view our ideological opponents in an entirely different way.
They hate us because they think we’re evil.
We pity or despise them because we know they’re stupid.
This is not, I realise, a particularly original observation. But I don’t think it has ever been quite so germane as in our present global economic crisis. Surely you need to be quite desperately, unbelievably obtuse not to appreciate the following:
1. The State has no money of its own: only what it takes from the productive sector of the economy via taxation, or from future generations by borrowing or money-printing.
2. The harder the State squeezes the productive sector, the less the productive sector becomes either able or willing to produce. This causes the economy to shrink, making things harder for everyone, rich and poor, but most especially for the poor.
3. We have seen empirical proof of this, not only in cases like the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also in examples like the relative economic performances of heavily regulated, relatively high-tax and socialised economies like Europe’s and of more free market, low-tax economies like Hong Kong’s and Singapore’s. In the latter, everyone – rich and poor alike – gets better off more quickly.
4. The world is stuck in an economic crisis at least as bad as – and probably more intractable – than the Great Depression. Convenient though it is to blame it all on bankers’ greed, poor regulation, etc, the root cause is this: for many decades the Western economies have been spending more than they can afford and are now heavily in debt.
5. The solution to a debt crisis is NOT more spending (still less more borrowing) – which merely kicks the can down the road, transforms a serious problem into an even bigger one, increasing the likelihood that something barely controllable will spiral completely out of control, resulting in civil unrest, hyperinflation and economic chaos.
6. Therefore it follows that there is nothing caring or superior in campaigning for government spending to be kept at current levels, let alone increased. Not only is it intellectualy dishonest, but it is hypocritical and immoral. In the guise of concern for the poor and needy in society, it agitates for precisely those policies most guaranteed to make things worse for everyone.
Why then, given that this ought to be stunningly, breathtakingly obvious to anyone with even half a brain cell, do people on the left – not just the patently thick, ill-educated, lumpen-lefties, but the notionally clever ones too – still persist even now in arguing otherwise?
Why, across the BBC, ABC, MSNBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, New Republic, the New Statesman, Slate, Salon and the rest do we find the usual suspects from Polly Toynbee to Paul Krugman, from Jon Snow to Keith Olbermann continuously offering barely differentiated variations on the same utterly discredited theme: that more government spending (and wealth redistribution and taxation and regulation and intervention) is a good thing and that less of it is a bad thing?
What is it about reality that these people do not get?
Well I’ve thought about this a lot and it seems to me that there is only one possible excuse which might offer a shred of intellectual justification for their thinking the way they do. Could it be that these people really, truly still believe, despite everything, in the Keynes fairy? Do they actually think that the government, by confiscating money from some people and redistributing it among others, can create some kind of virtuous cycle of consumer spending which leads to economic growth and prosperity for all?
I think they do. And superficially, I guess, it doesn’t seem such an unreasonable idea.
Let’s assume, for simplicity’s sake, that without government spending the poor would have no money, but that with government spending the poor have, say, £50 a week. Well, suddenly, there is £50 a week going into the pockets of bookmakers, publicans, fish-and-chip-shop-owners, Iceland-check-out-girls and so on and so forth. This in turn means that all the bookmakers, publicans, fish-and-chip-shop-owners, etc have more money to spend on whatever they want to spend their money on. Thus does the economy grow – and all thanks to the benign hand of the friendly, caring state.
Then, of course, there’s capital projects. Let’s again, assume for simplicity’s sake, that these are not a case of money being spunked against the wall on something as pointless as HS2 but that these capital projects are necessary and worthwhile: a new airport serving London, say. Well, here again – is the virtuous State in action, creating jobs, using its muscle to achieve something far and beyond what the private sector ever could.
Now something about all this smells fishy to me. It goes against all my classical liberal/free market/Austrian/libertarian instincts. But what I lack, unfortunately, is the economic grounding to explain precisely why it’s problematic. And I believe it’s hugely important that those of us on our side of the argument find a compelling way of doing so because until we succeed the enemy has got us over a barrel.
Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s not enough – as we do all the time – to point out the myriad examples from history where Statism has been tested to destruction (lefties never were much interested in empiricism).
What we need to do is find a way of expressing, lucidly, entertainingly, persuasively, why it is that all those liberal-lefties who believe that it makes economic sense for government to go on spending at current levels are not just wrong but demonstrably wrong.
So that’s my challenge to you, Bogpaper readers. Especially those of an economic bent. In no fewer than 200 words and no more than 1000, whether through the medium of parable, reductio ad absurdum, learned essay, or whatever your preferred mode, I invite you to nail once and for all this dangerous lefty notion that governments can spend their way out of a recession by stimulating demand.
I’ll be inviting my erudite chums at places like the Cobden Centre, the Adam Smith Institute, Von Mises, the Centre for Policy Studies, Reason, Telegraph blogs, the Commentator, Guido et al to have a go. If Jamie Whyte – hint hint – doesn’t have a stab, for example, I would consider him a pathetic girl and a total failure and would be ashamed to have won a Bastiat prize in the same year he did. Just sayin’.
In return, I can’t promise much by way of a prize other than a) having the top three essays awarded pride of place here at Bogpaper.com and b) the satisfaction of having solved once and for arguably the most intractable problem of our time.
And c) something else nice which I haven’t quite decided yet but which I’ll discuss with the Bogpaper crew.
You up for it? Good. The place to send your entries is email@example.com. Deadline: March 21.