Russell Taylor: #OurDay – Celebrating the statists

As I’m sure you know, the #OurDay 24-hour ‘tweetathon’ took place last Thursday, to celebrate the sterling work done by local councils. What do you mean, you missed it? Shame on you. Don’t you realise how hard our public servants work for us? No wonder they take 20% more sick days than private sector employees. That kind of dedication is bound to take its toll. It’s only right that they get better pay, longer holidays and more generous pensions than the rest of us. They’re saints to a man, to a woman and to that bloke in a dress who works at the job centre.

On second thoughts, why should council employees be singled out for praise? What about the man who works at my local garage? He sells me things I actually need, like petrol and air fresheners, whereas most of the council’s output is of no use to me whatsoever. If Garage Man zeroes in on my needs like a sniper, the council is like an H-bomb that wipes out everything except its intended target. So maybe we should hold a day of thanks for private sector workers instead. Only there’s no need, because we already thank them by giving them our custom, which we could easily take elsewhere. Local councils don’t give us that kind of choice, and they make us pay for things we didn’t ask for and abide by rules we didn’t consent to. Now they want us to rush onto Twitter and hail their achievements. Are they kidding us?

What does the ‘our’ in #OurDay mean, anyway? Are local government employees referring to themselves? Or do they believe that collectivist twaddle about the state being an extension of The People, and reckon they and us are indivisible? If it’s the former, they might want to remember that it’s bad form to organise a party in your own honour. If it’s the latter, then I’d like to state for the record that the feeling isn’t mutual. Just because I pay the council to collect my rubbish and keep the streets clean doesn’t mean there’s a bond between us. Friends don’t spend your money on worthless crap you don’t need and never asked for.

Contrary to what the Labour Party and its media lapdogs might tell you, the reason the global economy remains in a precarious state, and why modern Britain is closer to Orwell’s version of 1984 than the real thing, is that we have too much government spending too much money. During the boom years, when economic growth was considered an immutable fact of nature, we were happy to indulge a growing class of regulators, technocrats and self-styled care-givers. The private sector was having it good and it seemed only fair to share our bounty with its émigrés. Then the crash came and when the dust settled, we found they’d emptied the current account, maxed out the credit cards and frittered away the inheritance. All they had to show for it was a sprawling bureaucratic Neverland, staffed by people doing work of no consequence to anyone but themselves.

It seems obvious now that those who shun the private sector resent its constraints, so are unlikely to be models of efficiency and prudence. Allowing them access to that much public money was like giving Gary Glitter a job as a department store Santa. Lesson learned – but not by the wrong-doers, it seems. Their municipal Mardi Gras rumbles on, heedless of economic reality, and they expect the public to applaud them every step of the way.

Fans of public services don’t cheer for them because they’re any good or offer value for money, but because they’re free at the point of use. This isn’t to say that they’d be writing love letters to supermarkets if they adopted a similar model and collected a subscription fee in place of regular prices. If they went down this route, Tesco and Asda would soon resemble relics from Ceausescu’s Romania, and a week’s shopping would cost the same as a fortnight’s holiday to Spain. But this isn’t what Big Government types would object to. Their beef would be that everyone paid the same amount, irrespective of their financial circumstances.

The appeal of the public sector to its supporters is that those who benefit from it most pay the least towards it, making it a de facto charity, from which we all benefit to some degree. If it were funded by a flat fee, as in my supermarket example, there would be outrage; but because its costs are dumped on those best able to afford them, we are given the illusion of a good deal. This is a false economy, however. Or a fool’s economy, if you like. Off-set costs don’t disappear; they just mutate like sci-fi monsters and come back bigger and uglier than before. Price controls return as shortages; subsidies return as tax hikes; tax hikes return as a depressed labour market. And all these things create a demand for layers of expensive, obstructive, self-replicating bureaucracy.

Government stifles the affluence that obviates the need for state support. Or to put it another way, it creates the conditions that justify its own existence. If we had less government, there would be more prosperity, more jobs and more self-reliance. Even the poorest among us would be better off. I believe this matters because I’m of the unfashionable opinion that a person’s absolute condition is more important than their position relative to others. If ridding ourselves of the soul-sucking incubus of the state leaves us less equal but more comfortable, I think that’s a worthwhile trade-off.

Not everyone shares this view. Some people are in favour of socialised provision because they like the idea that we are all stuck in the same sinking boat. Public services don’t hold a person’s shortcomings against them, but neither do they recognise their merits. Thus, strivers and achievers are mired in the same sucking bog of mediocrity as everyone else.

This is why private schools come under fire: because they give the children of wealthy parents an unfair advantage. But it’s not the fault of private schools that state comprehensives are not up to their standard. Then again, we shouldn’t expect them to be. If you pay more for something, you should expect it to be better. If not, then wealth is rendered meaningless, and the efforts required to obtain it are pointless. Being brilliant and hard-working would do you no more favours than if you were a useless bum.

Needless to say, this wouldn’t serve the interests of society very well, and yet it is precisely the model the public sector works to. The statist ideology says that no one should enjoy any advantage denied to anyone else, irrespective of individual effort or ability. This may be of comfort to the envious, the inadequate, the middle-class guilt brigade, and control freaks who want to keep everyone in their place, but it should disgust all right-thinking people.

In fairness to #OurDay, it was about local, not central, government. But councils still represent the same collectivised ethos and are staffed by the same over-reaching meddlers as any other corner of the civil service. I don’t deny that there are good councils out there, doing important work beyond the scope of the private sector, but let’s not encourage them, eh?

10 comments on “Russell Taylor: #OurDay – Celebrating the statists

  1. Neal Asher
    October 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    Absolutely right.

  2. Simon Roberts
    October 23, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    https://knowledgehub.local.gov.uk/web/kmteam/blog/-/blogs/11175133

    It looks more like a lobbying exercise to me.

    I was a Civil Servant for ten years and it’s true that those who bother to think about it (which isn’t many) view themselves as unappreciated martyrs devoting themselves to the public good.

    The single biggest problem is that they nearly all join straight from education and never gain exposure to the rigors of the private sector. They genuinely believe that they are hard working as they have nothing to compare it to.

    What they don’t do is dwell on the morality of mandatory confiscation of wealth. If they do discuss it, it’s along the lines of “it costs to live in a civilised society”. They conveniently ignore the fact that civilisation existed quite happily when the entire UK has about 8,000 civil servants in the early 20th Century.

    But then, people will find it very easy to not understand something when their jobs depend on not understanding it.

    • Russell Taylor
      October 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Indeed, Simon. There’s a lack of historical perspective here. Ten years ago, public spending was a fraction of what it was today, but no one was unhappy with it (or the state of public services) at the time. And yet, the slightest cut to spending nowadays provokes hysterial stories about people going hungry or cold, or dying in the streets – despite the cuts being only a tiny percentage of the overall increase seen in the past decade.

  3. Talwin
    October 23, 2013 at 1:09 pm #

    And during ‘Empire’, didn’t the British administer India with about 23 civil servants. Well, not many anyway.

  4. Rocco
    October 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Reading Russell’s stuff these last few weeks, I’m starting to worry I’m not quite radical enough.

    • Anthem
      October 23, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

      Rocco, the sad thing is that anyone should consider what Russell has written up there “radical”.

      It all sounds like completely ordinary, common-sense move-along, nothing-to-see-here kind of stuff to me.

      That monies should be stolen from one bunch people and given to another bunch of people so that this second bunch of people can then tell the first bunch people how they would like them to generate their next payment and how much it will be really should be the “radical” approach.

      That’s the approach that should have everyone saying, “Woah! What the hell’s going on here!? This is madness!”

      Superb piece Russell.

      • Rocco
        October 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

        You’re not wrong, dude.

  5. therealguyfaux
    October 24, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    The entertainer and social critic Jean Shepherd, he of the Christmas Story film (“You’ll shoot yer eye out, kid!”), called the whole concept of paying ever more to, and getting ever less from, people who take you for a fool– more fool you, taking it lying down or at any rate biting your lip, for the privilege of being insulted in this way, and they know it– “Creeping Meatballism.”

    And this was in 1957. Halcyon days. His point was that sooner or later people cotton onto this, and it represents a watershed in how they view the world; they go from being a “day person” (a conventional unreflective 9-to-5’er) to a “night person” (a more jaded observer of the passing parade of life).

    Unfortunately, no action plan proposed, along with the observation stated.

  6. Maneno
    October 25, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Unfortunately an excellent analysis – what can be done ?

  7. Hannah L (@HannahLonline)
    October 25, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    I’m very happy I missed this day. I think the #askthepresident hashtag was far more fun!

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