Russell Taylor: An app to combat ignorance?

The other day, while channel-hopping, I happened upon Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the 80s movie favourite, starring Matthew Broderick. One scene that caught my attention featured bored pupils in an economics lesson, listening to a teacher drone on about The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act and the Laffer Curve (the former being a failed New Deal initiative; the latter being evidence that raising taxes reduces government revenues). It occurred to me that this might be the only time economics has featured in an American coming-of-age movie (except, perhaps, for the ‘Greased Lightning’ number in Grease, which is really just a practical demonstration of the division of labour).

Watching it, I was reminded of my own economics lessons at school, back in the 1980s. This was the time of Thatcherism and Reaganomics, when tax cuts were producing record revenues for governments, and the collectivist alternative was bringing the Eastern Bloc to its knees. I don’t recall ever being taught that socialism was a valid alternative to the free market, because evidence to the contrary was right in front of us. Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot could sing the praises of nationalisation all they liked, but during that brief period of sanity between the Winter of Discontent and the fall of the Iron Curtain, the people who mattered weren’t listening.

I haven’t a clue what our modern, debased educational establishment teaches kids about economics, but I find it hard to believe that progressive ‘educators’ are very laissez-faire about the laissez-faire nowadays. It wouldn’t surprise me if the National Curriculum presents capitalism as a pitiless money-making scheme that must be kept on a tight government leash to save us from the evils of inequality and exploitation. I think that’s about as fair a deal as it can expect in a country where a Conservative Prime Minister uses the Weimar Republic as his economic model.

The Laffer Curve, in particular, is unlikely to get much shrift from leftists, because it stands in contradiction to their own pet theories. As far as they’re concerned, it belongs in the same category of verboten ideas as the Bell Curve study into IQ variances between different racial groups. Who knows, maybe they have a problem with curves in general. After all, they’re always hectoring us for having too many of them on our bodies.

Most people have an intuitive understanding of economics, because it’s so much a part of everything they do. On some level, they understand why Tesco and Amazon are cornucopias of choice and value that would never have existed in the Soviet Union, no matter how many people were killed in pursuit of the socialist utopia. But equally, they are willing to set aside all sense and reason the moment the market frustrates them. At this point, they discover that, as Nikita Khrushchev said, “Economics is a subject that does not greatly respect one’s wishes.”

Falling prices are taken as a fact of nature, like the setting of the sun, but as soon as they go the other way, there is uproar, as witnessed in the recent furore over rising energy prices. The instinctive response to price hikes seems to be threefold: a) to blame it on corporate greed, b) to demand that the government Do Something About It, and c) to conclude that this sort of thing would never happen in the public sector, where everyone is cuddly and decent and totally unconcerned about vile things like profit.

This is one of those basic economic confusions that’s much easier to digest than the truth of the matter, which is often slippery, longwinded and emotionally unsatisfying. The Left trades on people’s preference for a simple, comforting lie to present the state as a panacea to all our problems. Because its economic illiteracy comes cloaked in what looks like common sense, it’s difficult to argue against without losing people’s attention. In fact, unless an economic reality can be summed up in three sentences or less, I don’t think it stands a chance against “because rich people are greedy”.

To this end, I think it would be useful if someone with more economic nous than me compiled a list of common left-wing arguments and offered succinct, cutting, difficult-to-refute explanations as to why they’re absolute tosh. It could even be turned into an app, which could be fired up the moment some yurt-dwelling crusty started on an anti-capitalist diatribe. Better still, it would automatically detect when liberal drivel was being spoken and a no-nonsense voice could bark out a riposte (someone like James Woods would be perfect). The only downside would be that it would activate so many times each day, that it would be a real drain on battery life.

The key would be to keep the retorts brief and factual. For instance, the proper reply to the cry of “The government should stop companies from charging so much” would go something like this:

Companies outperform their rivals by having better products, higher standards and by working more productively in order to cut costs and maximise profits – a saving they can then pass onto customers to gain a price advantage. This process, which benefits buyers and sellers alike, is driven by the possibility of unconstrained profits, and is kept in check by the pressures of competition. When the government fixes prices, it results in shortages and inferior service, as companies lower supply and quality to protect their profits; or in jobs losses and bankruptcy, as businesses become less viable.

And a dumb-arsed comment like “Public services are better than the private sector because they value compassion over profits” could be rebutted with something along the lines of:

The best driver of value and excellence is the will to succeed in a competitive environment. Remove the competition and the possibility of failure (as is the case in the state sector), and the result is stagnation, ineptitude and waste. Thus, public services are doomed to cost each of us more, for providing a worse service, than their private sector alternatives – even allowing for the rich paying a disproportionately higher percentage of the cost.

You get the gist. Now we just need someone savvy enough to write it. Any volunteers?

21 comments on “Russell Taylor: An app to combat ignorance?

  1. Kav
    October 27, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    This is a great idea except that I think you could be even more succinct in your responses. For instance, “you’re talking complete bollocks” and “shut the fuck up you wooly jumper wearing guardian reading pillock” would do the job for me.

  2. Rich Turner
    October 27, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    I’ve explained to my son (15), at some length, about socialism and capitalism, statist and liberatarian etc. I was even handed with my examples of the leftists way of things but he, like most, understood that capitalism and right wing politics is the best way to bring genuine equality and prosperity.

    He came home from school recently and told me his teacher had said that “right wing people are evil.”

    That’s what we’re up against. Catchy sound bites like that and an establishment promoting the lefty agenda (I include the current Torie party in that too.)

    • jazz606
      October 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      Rich Turner

      I don’t have children. But if I did, and their teacher sent them home with a comment like“right wing people are evil” ringing in their ears then I would be having a word with that teacher.

  3. therealguyfaux
    October 27, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    “Thus, public services are doomed to cost each of us more, for providing a worse service, than their private sector alternatives…”

    “Creeping Meatballism.” See comments section of RT’s post for 23/10/2013.

  4. Simonlerosbif
    October 27, 2013 at 6:29 pm #

    Not featuring an actual school lesson à la Ferris, but with the same endorsement of Reaganomics, Risky Business is as good an example as I can remember.

  5. Henshaw
    October 27, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    Add one for people who think the “living wage” is a good idea. A super majority of Americans think the minimum wage is good policy.

  6. kevinsmith2013
    October 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    A supermajority of Americans still think 9/11 was carried out by a bunch of muslim terrorsits as well, and that the federal reserve has the countries best interests at heart, and that the country is undergoing a recovery, and………………

    • Henshaw
      October 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

      Most Americans are clueless about the Federal Reserve system.

  7. David
    October 27, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    I’m sure right wingers are not evil. We know it is ‘the left’ who are the Nazis, National Socialists – right? – geddit..!.

    Wait, errr… hang on…

    “As far as they’re concerned, it belongs in the same category of verboten ideas as the Bell Curve study into IQ variances between different racial groups. ”

    I mean you just dropped that in like it is some established fact – that some ethnic groups are just dumber, as an example of a ‘truth banned by lefties’ ?

    I cant be a Libertarian, everywhere I go I see these flags.

    And everywhere I go I see blame being being heaped on the stereotyped losers in society, in bitter self righteous blogs.

    Outa here.

    • Rocco
      October 28, 2013 at 1:23 am #

      David, just out of interest, do you read my articles on Bogpaper?

    • Russell Taylor
      October 28, 2013 at 7:03 am #

      David, you’re missing the point. I’m not commenting on the validity of the Bell Curve. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s false. Either way, it should be irrelevant to how we treat others. Libertarianism and racism are not bedfellows. Quite the opposite, in fact.

      My point is that ideas should not be off limits because you don’t like their conclusions. The Left has a tendency to dismiss anything that doesn’t fit their narrative. It has been argued by people on the Left that the Bell Curve is repellent because it is pleasing to racists. Perhaps, but that doesn’t automatically make it untrue. The truth is not a matter of opinion. It either is or it isn’t.

      If the Bell Curve is crap, it’s crap, but it’s not crap and shouldn’t be beyond the bounds of sensible discussion just because Lefties don’t like it. See what I’m saying.

      • Russell Taylor
        October 28, 2013 at 7:10 am #

        I missed a crucial ‘if’ in the last paragraph. IF it’s not crap, it shouldn’t be beyond the bounds of sensible discussion…

      • Jake Haye
        October 28, 2013 at 10:58 am #

        That may be the case, but it was a tactical error even to mention it – you effectively trolled your own article.

        At the risk of making the same mistake, I would also point out that you may have mischaracterised The Bell Curve in the same way as its leftist critics. To my knowledge (I haven’t read it), discussion of race is not the main theme of the book, and only appears in one chapter.

  8. Rocco
    October 28, 2013 at 11:12 am #

    Just a technical point on something from Russell’s reply to David.
    Russell said “racism and libertarianism are not bedfellows. *Quite the opposite in fact*”.

    Now, while I’m sure Russell added the second sentence to reassure David – who seems quite a sensitive soul – this needs qualifying. Libertarianism isn’t anti-discrimination in the sense of outlawing certain obnoxious, but non-aggressive, behaviours. You can be a libertarian and a racist at the same time, so long as you’re not an aggressive racist. Just like you can be a libertarian and an anti-racist at the same time, so long as you’re not an aggressive anti-racist. Just like you can be a libertarian and a Elvis impersonator at the same time, so long as you’re not an aggressive Elvis impersonator.

    It’s aggression against persons and property that libertarianism forbids, not distasteful thoughts. You can be as much of a stupid, backward, neanderthal, knuckle dragging, mouth breathing imbecile as you want – just as long as you’re not an aggressive one.

    • Russell Taylor
      October 28, 2013 at 11:59 am #

      Hi Jake. I don’t consider it a mistake to mention it, because it’s a well-known example of how people (be they lefties or otherwise) making their minds up about something on the basis of how pleasing or offensive they find it.

      I could equally have pointed out that the Left’s enthusiasm for global warming theories is driven by its desire to use it as a pretext for expanding state control. Were global warming be categorically debunked tomorrow, they would be distraught.

      • David
        October 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

        @ Rocco – I do try to read your posts, most of them in fact ,time permitting.

        “You can be a libertarian and a racist at the same time, so long as you’re not an aggressive racist. Just like you can be a libertarian and an anti-racist at the same time, so long as you’re not an aggressive anti-racist. ”

        The point is, I find nearly all Libertarian blogs ‘anti-aggressive racist,’, but never ‘anti racist’. Or ‘anti-aggressive pro disabled’, but never ‘pro disabled’. In fact the opposite, I read a post blaming the disabled for the poor state of the economy. You wont read much sympathy for those who are excluded from society by disability, and whose lives are made even worse by those that exploit the system designed to help them, resulting in the idea that EVERYONE who asks for state help is an undeserving scrounger. Again, no Libertarian blog points this out because really they do not believe in any state help at all, and so the ‘fakers’ are a useful lightening rod to ‘soften up’ and smokescreen the true beliefs.

        That’s why the Bell curve mention was suspicious. It smells of the mirror image of the left being ‘distraught’ if global warming was false.

        It is a good example though of difficult science easily interpreted casually to suite political ends.

      • Rocco
        October 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm #

        David, I think the problem you’re having is down to tre fact that it’s become somewhat fashionable in recent years for conservatives, right-wingers, ukip supporters etc, to refer to themselves as ‘libertarians’. (Hence why I stress that I’m an anarchist, just so there’s no confusion.)

        Look man, if you read a post blaming disabled people for the economy, whoever wrote it is a fucking moron, and you should stop reading them.

        David, I’ve said this to you before, but I’ll repeat it: there is nothing wrong whatsoever with claiming benefits in a social democracy. Anyone who says there is, is either a Tory or an idiot. Either way, they’re not libertarians.

      • kevinsmith2013
        October 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

        Russell, are you somehow suggesting that global warming has NOT been utterly and categorically debunked already?
        The mere fact of debunking appears to affect the left not one jot, the polemic lives!

  9. vircantium
    October 30, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    There’s a very succinct answer to “Public services are better than the private sector because they value compassion over profits”, at least in the UK. It’s:

    “Mid-Staffordshire NHS”

  10. vircantium
    October 30, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    There is a much more succinct answer to “Public services are better than the private sector because they value compassion over profits”, at least in the UK:

    “Mid-Staffordshire NHS”


  1. Rocco: When did you stop Racially Abusing your Wife? - November 7, 2013

    […] week, Russell Taylor mentioned the Bell Curve. Mentioned it. He didn’t say he agreed with it. He didn’t reference any particular […]

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